The following article appeared in the Skagit Valley Herald.

Battle brews over Fidalgo Island growth

County ordinance facing legal challenge

Skagit Valley Herald 12/30/00
JENNI ODEKIRK

ANACORTES - Kathryn Alexandra and Ken Howard both live in the rural part of southern Fidalgo Island, but they have different ideas about how their part of the island should be developed.

Alexandra, a 14-year member of the local environmental group Evergreen Islands, said she is disappointed by the recent growth around her Campbell Lake home and the rest of the island.

“It’s already noisy,” Alexandra said. “Sometimes I think about moving away, but it’s so pretty here.” She said she is disheartened by the thought of more growth in the area.

Howard, on the other hand, is president of the Association of Skagit County Landowners and thinks Fidalgo Island landowners should be free to develop their land without undue regulation. He said controlled development would not harm the rural character of Fidalgo Island.

“Those kinds of concerns are unfounded,” Howard said.

Alexandra and Howard represent opposite views in a legal fight over a county ordinance that could increase the density of houses on Fidalgo Island.

Called the Conservation and Reserve Development Ordinance, the policy allows developers to build houses on smaller lots than the land is zoned for if they set aside the rest of their acreage as open space. The ordinance stipulates that house lot sizes must be between 5,000 square feet and one acre in size.

The ordinance also allows developers to build more houses than the zoning would otherwise allow, in certain circumstances. This pertains to land zoned rural reserve or rural resource - designations that total about 4,000 acres on Fidalgo Island.

The Evergreen Islands group and the City of Anacortes each have appealed the ordinance to the Western Washington Growth Management Board, arguing that the ordinance allows too much growth.

The ordinance has been in place since 1998 on an interim basis, and was made permanent in June.

Marge Swint, a county associate planner, said the ordinance was used in 20 of the 40 developments county planners worked on in 1999. The flow of applications based on the ordinance has continued through 2000 as well, she said.

But Swint said only a handful of those applications were from Fidalgo Island, and that she is not aware of any having been approved by the county.

Swint said she expects the ordinance to be used more frequently in the future, as more people learn about it.

“People are starting to catch on to it,” Swint said.

County Planning Director Tom Karsh endorsed the ordinance as a flexible way to prevent suburban sprawl.

“If you cluster homes, the cost of development goes down and it still looks rural,” Karsh said.

Anacortes officials and members of the Evergreen Islands group disagree with Karsh, and are concerned about the future of land presently set aside as open space.

Karsh said the open space areas could indeed be developed in 10 or 20 years, if more people move to Fidalgo Island and the land is rezoned.

“You just can’t block folks from wanting to live here,” Karsh said. “Growth is inevitable.”

Anacortes officials and Evergreen Islands members argue instead that the ordinance invites growth that might not otherwise come to Fidalgo Island.

Siding with them is Ian Munce, Anacortes city lawyer and planning director.

“This (ordinance), as far as the city is concerned, is a plan to urbanize the island,” Munce said.

Evergreen Islands has asked that the open space be put in conservation easements - that is, that it be forever protected from development.

Tom Glade, vice president of the Evergreen Islands group, said some parts of Fidalgo Island covered by the ordinance already exceed their maximum density through previous development, and are environmentally sensitive.

“Most of that land is between the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Deception Pass State Park. It could threaten the wildlife corridor between the two parks,” Glade said.

The Anacortes and Evergreen Islands appeals to the ordinance are now being considered by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, which is expected to rule on them in February.

Alexandra and Howard await the board’s decision, as do the groups they represent.