Planning commission continues comp plan hearing

There will now be more time to comment on the 2036 comprehensive plan.

The San Juan County Planning Commission held a hearing on July 15 during its regularly scheduled meeting but several commenters did not feel they had enough time to process the approximately 700-page document. They also pointed out that the website had not been updated with proposed changes to the plan’s draft.

The public hearing will continue on Aug. 5 at 8:30 a.m. in order to ensure the community is being heard.

“Giving people three minutes, and then ignoring them bothers me,” commissioner Steve Smith said.

The other commissioners also expressed a desire for more time to consider public feedback.

County staff has been working on updating the plan for six years. A majority of the changes focus on projected population growth and confirming infrastructure is available to accommodate the growth while preserving the county’s rural character. Besides fulfilling the Growth Management Act’s periodic review requirement, the plan includes new analyses, assessments and inventories to plan over the next 14 years.

“The purpose of the update is to prepare for projected growth to 2036, and adopt the plan toward the community’s vision for the future,” San Juan County planner Sophia Cassam told the commission during her staff briefing.

The population in 2036 is currently projected to be 19,423 year-round residents with a peak season daily population of 20,604. Of the 10 elements, comments primarily focused on three: land use, transportation and utilities.

Justin Paulsen, Orcas Island member of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee, voiced concern about the document’s reliance on the state ferry system.

“Washington State Ferries are in a full tailspin in their ability to provide service right now,” Paulsen said. WSF is not expecting new boats until at least 2027. “We need to encourage the county to look at other options.”

Jay Kimball, from Orcas Island, brought up the importance of addressing climate change.

“This Climate Emergency needs to be front and center. San Juan County will not be immune,” he said, adding that transportation is one of the biggest carbon sources.

Kimball encouraged the county to look into electric public transportation and said planning should factor in electrical charging infrastructure, and land for solar panels and battery storage.

Echoing Paulsen’s call for a more diverse marine vessel service, Kimball also said the county should look for ways to increase passenger traffic and smaller passenger boats.

Patty Miller, also from Orcas Island, said that the plan should encourage cottage industries. Property owners of forestry or agricultural lands are not able to make much money off their land due to the restrictions, according to Miller. Cottage industries are one way these owners can afford to keep and maintain property. Miller explained she was not talking about industrial businesses but small, relatively unintrusive businesses. She also advocated for allowing some property owners to have tiny homes on their property to assist with housing.

Brent Lyles, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, also touched on the impacts of climate change as well as preserving natural resource lands.

“We need to be proactive in protecting San Juan County’s natural resource lands,” he said. “Right now the comp plan does not do enough to protect these parcels of land from getting destroyed through development.”

He encouraged the commissioners to take another look at ways to increase agricultural lands.

“It is critical to maintain the rural feel,” Lyles said. “We love this place because it is rural.”

After closing the comment period, the commissioners deliberated for several hours, reviewing all comments, including those received via email. In addition to the Aug. 5 session, a public hearing is slated for Aug. 19 at 8:30 a.m. regarding the comp plan maps. According to San Juan County Planning and Development Director Dave Williams, approximately 30 property owners are requesting designation changes.

Once the planning commission is finished, the comp plan will go before the San Juan County Council. The council is expected to hold their public hearings on the plan in late fall.

To look at the draft plan visit