Door opens for Friday Harbor growth

The San Juan County Council last week joined the Town of Friday Harbor in an agreement over how development of the town’s urban growth area will be managed.

Next hurdle in development of Buck property is annexation

The San Juan County Council last week joined the Town of Friday Harbor in an agreement over how development of the town’s urban growth area will be managed.

But a few more hands will still need to be dealt before those areas included in Phase I of the UGA expansion, totaling roughly 70 acres, are considered ready to be annexed by the town.

The Town Council is scheduled to discuss the annexation issue at its Thursday meeting, 6:15 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

Foremost, annexation of any or of all three tracts targeted in the first phase of expansion may depend largely on the capacity of town infrastructure to handle increased demand on water, sewer, roads and stormwater runoff. Studies underway by the county are expected to show the capacity needed to accommodate development of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the UGA expansion.

Town officials have argued that existing ratepayers should be shielded from paying for improvements needed because of the development — and demand — of annexed properties.

Still, the recent accord, approved July 3 by the Town Council, removed a roadblock which idled the San Juan Community Home Trust in its quest to build a neighborhood of permanently affordable homes on a portion of the 46-acre Buck property. The Home Trust would receive a 15-acre slice of donated land, via its purchase by a benefactor, only if the property, located southeast of town near the elementary school and gravel pit, is annexed.

Should that bid for annexation fail, Home Trust Director Nancy DeVaux said that the plans of building up to 120 units of affordable homes, 15 of which could be completed by 2010, would likely be dashed.

“I guess then that we’d have to look for a piece of property somewhere else on the island,” DeVaux said.

The agreement calls for close cooperation between town and county on development of the unincorporated UGA, and it prevents the county from approving permits for projects that would conflict with the town’s greater land-use densities. It also requires those seeking annexation to provide detailed plans and analysis of the degree of urban services a project would need.

County Councilman Kevin Ranker, South San Juan, praised the pact as a step in the right direction. He noted, however, that county government nor the council deserve much credit in helping find solutions for the lack of affordable housing on the island.

“I think this is a proactive step on behalf of affordable housing here on San Juan Island,” Ranker said. “But frankly, the county has been a lot more talk than walk on this issue for a while now.”

Though the county may be guilty of foot dragging, the prospects of additional housing in Friday Harbor are on the rise. Letters of intent for annexation have recently been submitted to the town by two of the Phase 1 property owners, the Buck family and Bobby Ross Construction, which is developing a nine-acre subdivision near Lampard Road.

Town Administrator King Fitch said the council could have a complicated task on its hands if the third property owner, the Boe family, petitions for annexation as well. Town Attorney Don Eaton will brief the council about the process of annexation at its July 17 meeting.

“It could turn out to be 70 acres of land the council has to consider, not just the Buck property,” Fitch said.

Though Phase 1 remains in the spotlight, the agreement between the town and county also sets the stage for negotiations over Phase 2 of the UGA expansion, according to county Community Development and Planning Department Director Ron Henrickson. Negotiations are expected to resume in September after the county infrastructure study is complete.

The Friday Harbor urban growth area is being redrawn in accordance with a state requirement that UGA boundaries be revised every 10 years to accommodate projected population growth over the following 20 years.

The expansion was divided into two phases following disagreement between the town and county over the amount of growth targeted for the town, and the town’s concern about the cost of expanding water, sewer and other urban services to the larger area.

For more information, visit