A controversial rezone proposal on South Fidalgo Island was put to rest Monday when Skagit County commissioners voted against the change, which has been in the works for three years.
Commissioner Ron Wesen, who represents the western portion of the county including Fidalgo Island, said the zoning has functioned well for the past 20 years it has been in place and he sees no need for change.
“I think a lot of people really like what we have out there,” Wesen told the commission.
The Planning Department had advised county commissioners to adopt it, but the commissioners sided with the Skagit County Planning Commission’s six-to-one vote against the rezone, agreeing there is not enough evidence to warrant further restrictions in the area.
The proposal would have rezoned over 4,000 acres of land currently zoned as Rural Reserve into a new zone, called South Fidalgo Rural Residential. The push for it originated with a citizen petition in 2015 signed by 34 South Fidalgo residents asking to delete 17 special uses and remove a specific type of land division, known as Conservation and Reserve Developments (CaRDs).
The rezone was deferred three times and eventually landed on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan amendment docket, with edits to the draft code made by the Planning Department that could have deleted 16 or more special uses instead. This year’s iteration changed the boundaries of the rezone so it did not incorporate a number of businesses west of Sharpes Corner and gave commissioners options to include or exclude various aspects of the zone — such as special uses, CaRDs and lot coverage limits for major public uses.
The lot coverage limit was altered in 2016, capping the square footage allowed at 25,000 square feet. The Samish Indian Nation planned to build a cultural center in the area, designed prior to the limitation being put in place, to be about 33,000 square feet. Tribal Chairman Tom Wooten sent a letter to county commissioners in late June asking that more lot coverage be allowed in the new zone, should it be adopted.
Commissioner Lisa Janicki said she wanted to assure the Samish Indian Nation had a path to build its cultural center outside of the rezone issue, such as pursuing a later amendment.
“Whichever route they decide to go down, I am supportive,” Janicki said.
Last year, the Planning Commission voted 7-to-2 against adopting the rezone, but county commissioners directed the Planning Department to further research the proposal and provide more public review.
Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said this was partly because a number of people claimed they weren’t given a fair opportunity voice their opinions.
“They had a second opportunity for all of the different parties to be heard,” he said.
Proponents argued the new zone would have prevented commercial development threats and protected water resources, while opponents said their property rights would be infringed. Some argued their property values would be reduced, which Dahlstedt agreed was a valid concern.
They also said the zone was arbitrarily drawn and unfairly targeted large property owners in the interior of the South Fidalgo while ignoring most of the coastline, which Janicki felt was the most compelling argument against it.
She also said many of the premises that the proposal was based on, such as fragile water resources, were not proven.
“There was nothing that was brought forward that showed that further limiting was necessary,” Janicki said.
Wesen said overall, the zoning on South Fidalgo works the way it is and that people have been good stewards of the land. He took note that many residents there spoke loudly against the rezone.
“There has to be a compelling reason for change when you have that much divisiveness,” he said.