Opinion

Annexation: A well-planned, low impact solution | Guest Column

What kind of community do we want our island to be in the future? One with a thriving, vibrant, self-sufficient economy, where children are still a part of our community, or one that is just a large rest home for the wealthy?

Do we want local businesses to be able to employ local residents? Do we want our fire, police, health care providers and schools to be able to attract the best employees without paying a wage premium, which increases costs for all of us?

Our island is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Unless we deal head-on with this crisis, there is no way our diverse community can survive. The Home Trust has come up with a workable solution, with no other viable options on the table from any source.

This solution requires annexation of 50 acres of land on the outskirts of Friday Harbor. Annexations like this one are very common, and in fact have occurred 15 times in the town’s history.

In his column, Friday Harbor Mayor David Jones either misstates the reality of the situation or obscures the facts.

Jones is a year too late with his “urban sprawl” argument. A decision was made in spring 2007 by the town Planning Commission and Town Council to expand the town’s UGA and include the Buck parcel, among others.

The state Growth Management Act requires counties and cities to create urban growth areas. When this process was discussed here on the island, the vast majority of citizens spoke in opposition to “infill development” where all the future growth would be forced within existing boundaries. Islanders love the character of Friday Harbor with its historic houses, gardens and open spaces, and do not relish the idea of greatly increased density.

The study cited by Jones to draw his conclusion that residential development costs the taxpayers is simply not relevant to the issue of development in the town of Friday Harbor. The study done by the American Farmland Trust for Friends of the San Juans in 2004 involved rural lands throughout the entire county. The Home Trust and the Buck/Boreens are committed to paying the cost of infrastructure needs on the property being proposed for development. The Home Trust has already raised more than $1 million just for infrastructure costs. In addition, the burden of the $1 million debt mentioned by Jones (which exists regardless of any annexation) would actually be spread among more taxpayers if additional residents are added to the town rolls.

If the town is already considering replacing the existing water supply pipeline, it seems entirely reasonable that they reevaluate the size of the pipe to plan for future growth, regardless of any proposed annexations.

Towns that have tried to meet the need for affordable housing within existing borders have been unsuccessful because of the cost of market-rate properties. The Home Trust has a proven method of creating permanently affordable housing, has secured land and the necessary funding, and has a detailed and realistic plan to accomplish the goal.

The most recent data available from the Washington Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006) indicates that our average wage was $27,541, the fifth-lowest in the state. This level of income alone would enable an individual to be eligible for affordable housing.

The agreement with the Buck/Boreens is a win-win situation for everyone. Yes, the family will benefit from the annexation. But so will the island. Neither of the other properties that are being considered for annexation, nor any of the subdivisions created in recent years, provide any such extraordinary benefit to the community at large.

Members of the Buck/Boreen family are committed to the future of this island and want to work with the Home Trust to create the affordable housing that is so critically needed here. The current plan is to build just 14 homes in the near future, with additional units built as the need demands.

It’s clear we won’t create prosperity and opportunity for Friday Harbor residents by pretending there is no affordable housing problem and rejecting a well-planned, well-funded and low-impact solution.

— This column was written by Nancy DeVaux, executive director of the San Juan Community Home Trust, and the board.

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