Skagit County commissioners

Skagit County commissioners (from left) Ken Dahlstedt, Lisa Janicki and Ron Wesen.

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County commissioners on Tuesday heard arguments on amendments to the county’s land use policies during a public hearing.

The hearing begins the Comprehensive Plan amendment process, giving the county an opportunity to consider revisions to the primary document that governs land use in unincorporated areas of the county.

This year, the commissioners will consider six citizen proposals and eight county staff proposals, said Hal Hart, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department.

Among them is a proposal to create what’s known as a Fully Contained Community north of Burlington.

Such a community, as defined by the state Growth Management Act, permits urban-density growth in rural areas but lacks municipal government.

Under the proposal, the community — which supporters are calling Avalon — would allow for up to 8,500 residents on 1,200 acres of what is now rural or agricultural land.

“For many reasons, there is a housing crisis in Skagit County,” said Bob Carmichael, a lawyer representing Skagit Partners, the corporation behind the proposal. “We have brought forward something that is potentially significant in addressing this problem.”

He urged the commissioners to consider adding this issue to the docket, which would open the door to further study of how the proposal could work in Skagit County.

Carmichael was the only person at the hearing to speak in favor of the proposal.

Stacie Pratschner, senior planner for the county, said Planning Department staff recommended against the proposal being added to the docket on the grounds that it was not first brought to the Growth Management Act Steering Committee for approval.

Nine people commented in opposition to the proposal, citing issues with urban sprawl, stormwater runoff and encroachment on agricultural land.

Ellen Bynum, executive director of Friends of Skagit County, said the Growth Management Act aims to keep population growth within cities and away from unincorporated areas.

Skagit County’s cities, she said, still have room to grow.

“We’re still interested in keeping our growth in our cities,” Bynum said.

Randy Good, a Hamilton-area cattle farmer, said Skagit Partners’ proposal doesn’t sufficiently manage the stormwater runoff that would come with new development, and said it could cause severe damage to neighboring farmland.

Attendees also commented on two water-related amendment proposals from Guemes Island residents.

The first would make it easier for county residents to install a rainwater catchment system, letting people use rain as their primary water source without an engineer’s approval and potentially saving homeowners about $5,000 in the permitting process, said Hal Rooks, chair of the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee.

The second proposal would require Guemes Island residents seek county approval before digging new wells.

Nancy Fox, a member of the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee, said the island has a history with seawater intrusion in wells. By making it easier to use rainwater and harder to dig new wells, she said she hopes this would alleviate this issue.

Planning Department staff recommended the commissioners add both these proposals to the docket.

The commissioners will decided on March 19 what to include on the docket.

From there, staff will prepare material on each of the items so the commissioners can decide whether to adopt the amendments.

Information on each of the docket proposals is available at skagitcounty.net/2019cpa.

The county is accepting written public comment on all docket items until Feb. 19. Comments can be emailed to pdscomments@co.skagit.wa.us.

Another public hearing will be held at 11 a.m. March 11 at the Commissioners Office.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH{p style=”margin-bottom: 0in;”}

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