Samish Indian Nation Tribal Chairman Tom Wooten says the tribe’s meetings spaces are getting cramped, but there is a plan to address the issue. The tribe wants to build a new, bigger space.
Back in 2012, the Samish Indian Nation purchased 13.5 acres of land on the south side of Highway 20 between Tibbles Lane and Campbell Lake Road. Plans have been in the works to build a 33,000-square-foot cultural center on the land since at least 2015, Wooten said.
The center would be a showpiece of Samish culture, while providing meeting and event space for the growing tribe and larger community, Wooten said. But to build it in that area, the tribe needs the lot coverage limit (which caps at 25,000 square feet) to be changed or put the land into trust to turn it into reservation land, Skagit County Planning Director Hal Hart said.
The tribe’s land is within the potential Rural Reserve rezone area, which is up for consideration this year. The new zone, South Fidalgo Rural Residential (SF-RR), is still being drafted and provides an opportunity for the tribe get the changes, Wooten said.
In the draft of the fourth rezone option, the Planning Department entirely removed the lot coverage limit, rather than making it a 35 percent coverage limit. Hart was unsure why the staff decided to remove the lot coverage limit entirely.
Lead writer Stacie Pratschner said removing the lot coverage limit was in light of the fact that Fidalgo Elementary School, a major public use, may not be able to expand in the future.
“We wanted to be conscious of the school that’s out there,” Pratschner said.
The land is zoned under Rural Reserve (RRv) in South Fidalgo Island, which was amended in 2016, replacing the maximum lot coverage with a limit of “5,000 sq ft or 20%, whichever is greater, not to exceed 25,000 square feet” according to the Comprehensive Plan update.
In a letter to the Board of County Commissioners, the tribe requested that the lot coverage limit be lifted to 35 percent if it were rezoned, which would allow building the larger facility.
Wooten said the idea came from the tribe’s new Director of Planning and Community Development Ryan Walters, who previously worked as the assisant director of the Skagit County Planning Department from 2016 to 2018 and is a current Anacortes City Council member.
He was the lead drafter of the new zone until he recently left the department and handed over the project to Senior Planner Stacie Pratschner, he said.
Wooten was not aware the zoning could still change this year until Walters brought it up, he said.
“Our planner brought it forward and said ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’” Wooten said.
The Samish tribe was opposed to the zoning changes last year.
Wooten submitted a letter to the Planning Department as part of the public comments, stating the proposed amendment is “overly restrictive.” They would now be open to the changes if it lifted the lot coverage limit, as requested in this year’s letter to county commissioners.