Comprehensive plan education sweeps county

San Juan County Community Development staff is on a county-wide tour to explain the comprehensive plan update.

“The comprehensive plan will be the county’s blueprint or guide for the next 20 years,” explained Erika Shook, the department’s director, at a presentation for the San Juan County League of Women Voters on Monday. Sept. 11.

The county’s comprehensive plan outlines how county staff will manage growth over the next two decades. An update occurs every 10 years and one is slated to be finished by next summer. Shook explained that staff is in the “analysis and data collection” part of this update, which is the first step.

Land use

Janet Alderton of Orcas questioned the incompatible zoning in Eastsound on Orcas Island, which may allow a propane tank to be installed in a residential area.

“It’s a safety issue,” she said.

Shook explained that, in this scenario, residential property is housed in an industrial zone thanks to property owners’ conditional-use permits. The industrial zoning makes it technically permissible to add a propane tank, though the county hearing examiner is reviewing the issue now.

This, said Shook, is an example of issues county staff will review in the mandatory update of the plan’s land-use section. There are similar incompatible land-use issues throughout the county, she added.

For more on the propane tank story, visit,

About four attendees also voiced concerns about planning for water capacity.

Paul Kamin, chairman of the San Juan County Water Resource Management Committee, previously told the Journal that the island’s freshwater source is replenished only by precipitation.Unlike on the mainland, water is not transported from different locations, like rivers.

Shook did not know of a county study on water carrying capacity, but explained that the water resources committee would review those issues in the update.


The first draft of the update’s housing needs was completed in August. It explains that the county must create 1,524 more units to meet its estimated population of 1,9423, if two people reside per dwelling. Half of these structures must be located in the county’s densely populated Urban Growth Areas.

County council approved the population estimate this summer.

In the 90s, a house was built for every new resident, but in the first decade of the 2000s, one house was built for about every two residents. The report states that “this has the left county in a situation where despite having 13,619 housing units in 2016 for a population for 16,314, there is still a severe lack of affordable housing in San Juan County.”

Two other completed preliminary drafts include inventories on utilities and capital facilities needed for the estimated county growth. None have been discussed at the county council. Review and comment on them at

The next presentation Shook will give is at the Orcas Eagles Forum on Sept. 23.

Stay informed

Share your opinion on the update with county staff at informal “pop-up studios.” Learn about issues brought to those pop-ups at workshops that evening.

Oct. 2, San Juan

Pop-up studio: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Market Place

Workshop: 6 to 8 p.m., Brickworks

Oct. 3, Orcas

Pop-up studio: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Island Market

Workshop: 6 to 8 p.m., Orcas High School

Oct. 4, Lopez

Pop-up studio: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lopez Village Market

Workshop: 6 to 8 p.m., Lopez Center for Community and the Arts