Orcas Island is growing, and a committee of islanders is hoping to start a dialogue about the future of Eastsound.
After San Juan County approved the comprehensive plan last fall, a handful of business owners, architects and engineers joined forces to create a committee with the goal of developing a “book of ideas” that would spark conversation.
“We felt the comp plan lacked some important things – like a vision for Eastsound,” said task leader Jim Jonassen.
The 200-page report entitled “Seeking a Vision for Eastsound: An invitation to engage” was submitted to the Eastsound Planning Review Committee, which advises the planning department and county council on land use and development matters, on May 5 for feedback and revisions. The final version is available starting June 16 at www.orcaslibrary.org and in the library. There will also be town hall meetings this fall. The EPRC plans to use community feedback and survey results to shape future policy.
“The EPRC will benefit from the surveys since they are the body that deliberates and can make change,” said Jonassen. “We tried to make the report as objective as possible,” said Jonassen.
The document is focused on the Village Core – a ¼-mile radius with the center located on Fern Street between Prune Aly and North Beach Road. Within the core, there are 54 housing units, three churches, two schools, two parks, three banks and one hotel. It is broken into three main sections – analysis of the current village core, illustration of dreams as voiced by community members and primary stake holders and alternate village scenarios – complete with diagrams, charts, schematics and photos. There is also a detailed analysis of housing and retail with options of decreasing and increasing density.
The plan is not without humor. There is a proposal for a 30-foot statue of April the cow, former mayor of Eastsound, to be installed on top of the Centurylink building.
Jonassen says one of the greatest surprises in their research was identifying 1,200 public and private parking spaces in the village core. They outlined solutions for additional public parking such as clusters and underground parking.
The population of San Juan County has increased 57 percent from 1990 to 2010 according to the U.S. Census. The county forecasts that the Orcas population will go from 4,500 to 8,000 by the year 2035. Projected housing needs on Orcas are 1500 units by 2035, at least half of which must be accommodated in the Eastsound Urban Growth Area.
In addition, tourism is dramatically increasing as indicated by the 16 percent increase in Anacortes/Orcas ferry ridership and 24 percent increase in county sales tax revenue (2011-2014) and 83 percent increase in lodging tax revenue for Orcas (2009-2015).
The visioning committee, which included EPRC members Bob Maynard and Greg Ayers, says that change is inevitable, but it hopes to make the process a “positive experience” for the community.