The Skagit County Board of Commissioners may once again consider allowing urban-style communities on rural land.

A proposal from developer Bill Sygitowizc asks the county to amend its planning policies to allow for what are called fully contained communities — communities that are similar in size, density and makeup to cities but lack their own municipal government.

According to Tim McHarg, senior land use planner with Van Ness Feldman, the firm representing Sygitowizc, fully contained communities are a tool to increase a county’s housing supply while also preserving rural areas.

The county commissioners will decide whether to study this proposal further after a public hearing at 10 a.m. Monday. Members of the public can speak at this remote meeting or send in written comments by 4:30 p.m. May 5.

This proposal is one of several planning proposals the commissioners could consider as they decide what issues should be added to the Comprehensive Plan amendment docket.

State law requires counties to plan for 80% of population in and immediately around cities and towns, and 20% in rural areas. According to data compiled by McHarg, the large cities in Skagit County are missing the mark.

If growth trends continue as they have since 2010, he said cities will account for only about two thirds of county residents by 2036.

“Housing (in cities) is not being produced at sufficient supplies to meet demand,” he said, which forces development in rural areas.

Rules about duplexes, apartments or other multifamily housing options are more strict in rural Skagit County, meaning rural development tends to consist of comparatively expensive single-family homes.

This contributes to sprawl, rising housing costs, worsening traffic and greater demand on groundwater, because rural areas aren’t usually served by a water utility, he said.

Alongside encouraging denser construction in the cities, McHarg said allowing fully contained communities would promote lower housing costs by promoting density in rural areas.

“The reality is probably somewhere between the two,” he said. “We need to keep both these options in play.”

While Sygitowizc’s proposal does not mention a specific fully contained community project, he has earlier expressed interest in building such a development on 1,244 acres near Avalon Golf Links north of Burlington.

The community, which he called Avalon, would have allowed for the construction of up to 3,500 new homes, according to his 2019 proposal, which he later withdrew.

County Commissioner Peter Browning said he agrees that fully contained communities have value, as long as they don’t encroach on agricultural or forest land.

Commissioner Ron Wesen agreed, saying the need for more housing has long been apparent.

“We definitely need more housing, and we have to look at different options,” he said.

Those interested in speaking at the public hearing or supplying written comment may email PDScomments@co.skagit.wa.us with a name, address, topic and text of the comment.

The public hearing will be shown on Skagit21 Television or online at skagitcounty.net/Skagit21.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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