Council endorses Eastsound land supply study

County planners are confident that this time around they got it right, and that an in-depth, parcel-by-parcel study of land supply in the Eastsound urban growth area will back their conclusions.

Those conclusions, contained in a study entitled the 2008 Eastsound Urban Growth Area Land Supply Analysis, suggest enough land that’s zoned for commercial and so-called institutional uses will be available to meet the needs of the urban growth area and Orcas Island through the year 2020.

The 2008 study will supplant an earlier UGA land-supply analysis which the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board determined lack enough evidence to support broader boundaries.

The study was endorsed May 20 by the County Council in a unanimous decision and on April 15 by the Planning Commission in a 5-1 vote. Its review in September by the Eastsound Planning Review Board prompted several revisions. EPRC’s Patty Miller testified in support of the study and said its production is an example county planners and the advisory group “worked well together”.

“We had some concerns which were addressed,” she said. “I think the report is based on conservative assumptions laid on top of conservative projections. If you take it as a whole, I think you’ll find solid assumptions.”

Completion of the study is one of a half-dozen tasks that have been required of the county by the Hearings Board which involve the long-awaited approval of the urban growth area boundaries.

The size of the urban growth area is about half of what it had been when its boundaries were initially drawn in 2000. Those boundaries were dramatically reduced following a legal challenge and a ruling by the Hearings Board that required the county to “show its work” in defense of the boundaries, regardless of size.

Based on population projections, the study indicates 8.6 acres will be needed to accommodate commercial activities in the near future and roughly 16 acres of developable land remain available. Another 31 acres of so-called “unassigned land”, set aside for non-commercial or non-residential uses, remains available. The study relies as well on a recent trend of buildings being built taller, but, according to Senior Planner Colin Maycock, that trend is calculated at a conservative rate.

According to planners, the population of Orcas Island is likely to increase by 39 percent over the next 12 years. Roughly half of those new residents, nearly 2,000 people, are expected to find a home in the urban growth area, according to the 2008 study.

Despite the influx, planning consultant Don Kehrer, co-author of the ‘08 analysis, believes there’s sufficient land to accommodate commercial, institutional and residential demands in the near future. If not, the plan, which, Kehrer noted, is supposed to be reviewed every five years, can be revised.

“The report is very transparent,” he said. “Anyone should be able to look at it and arrive at the same conclusions we did, even if they disagree with them.”