Comp Plan Update: What future do you want for our community?

For many decades, working on behalf of and with our members, Friends of the San Juans has been diligently engaging in updates to San Juan County’s official Comprehensive Plan. Known as the “Comp Plan,” it guides how our community will look in the future. The County’s Comp Plan sets goals and priorities that guide the County’s growth, including what can be built and where; which forests, agricultural lands, and shorelines will be protected against development; how the County responds to tourism and the climate crisis; and much, much more. With its new Comp Plan update, our County is making decisions now that will guide its actions for the next 20 years; the stakes literally could not be higher for the future of our Islands.

If you’ve ever marveled at the open vistas or the quality of life in the San Juan Islands, you have appreciated the benefits of San Juan County’s Comp Plan. In 1979, in the face of increasing tourism and rapid development, a group of concerned citizens came together and created a new organization — Friends of the San Juans — that would encourage sensible, quality-of-life-focused management of the County’s natural resources and growth. Friends was created to support San Juan County’s first Comp Plan, and since that time, we have been actively involved with each ensuing Comp Plan update. Today, we’re engaged again, and in the coming months, we hope you’ll join us!

Over the last several years, the County has been moving methodically through each of the Plan’s sections: Vision, Governance, Land Use & Rural, Shoreline Master Program, Water Resources, Housing, Transportation, Capital Facilities, Utilities, Historic and Archeological Preservation, and Economic Development. In 2017 and 2018, the County held public workshops to develop a “Vision Statement” to identify community priorities for the Comp Plan update. These included things like ensuring affordable housing, mitigating the effects of climate change, and protecting our natural resources and rural character. Since then, the sausage has been getting made: The County staff and the Planning Commission (which is made up of heroic community volunteers) have been revising and updating each section of the previous Comp Plan to reflect new priorities, recent scientific data, and the current realities of our community and our world.

Here at Friends of the San Juans, using our best collaborative thinking, drawing on our years of experience, and bringing the best available science to bear, we are taking advantage of opportunities for public comment by submitting formal recommendations to the Planning Commission. In just the last few months, we’ve submitted detailed comments on managing forests for climate resiliency, the proliferation of vacation rentals, incentivizing regenerative agriculture, whether new gravel mining operations should be allowed in the Islands, how to support and sustain our local farmers, and the critical importance of limiting sprawl in our rural areas.

But we can’t do it without you! In the coming months, you’ll hear more and more from us, inviting you to get personally engaged in the County’s Comp Plan process. By submitting letters or speaking up at Planning Commission meetings or sharing information on social media, you can advocate for policies that protect everything we all love about the San Juan Islands.

Ready to get started? Here are three things you can do:

  1. Learn more: This web page has all of the proposed sections of the Comp Plan update in one place. Currently, these are drafts because the County’s wheels are still turning; in fact, the County will soon launch a process for seeking public feedback on the whole thing. Pick a section that interests you, and read through it. Do you agree with the assumptions that the County is making? Do the proposed policies make sense? Is anything missing?
  2. Write a letter: Right now, the Planning Commission is looking at how the climate crisis is addressed in the Comp Plan. We had some thoughts about the value of forests and agricultural lands in improving our County’s climate resiliency, so we wrote this letter to them about it. You can see a list of all the letters that the public has submitted on this web page. To find the most recent ones, click on the grey box called “Land Use & Rural” and then scroll down to the “Public Comments” section. (Wherever you see “FOSJ” that’s us.) Submit your letter by emailing it to [email protected], and keep in mind that your letter can be as simple as, “I strongly support the points made by Friends of the San Juans in their memo about climate and natural resource lands, dated January 26th…”
  3. Sign up to help: Over the next few months, there will be a lot of opportunities to speak up and support sensible, science-based policies that protect our natural landscapes and the fabric and character of our community. We’re creating a small action group of especially passionate people whom we can count on to write important letters, attend critical meetings, and share relevant information on social media. If you’d like to receive those calls to action, send an email to Katie Fleming at [email protected] and let her know to sign you up — thanks for taking action!

Now more than ever Friends of the San Juans needs our support. Learn about the Friends, educate yourself, and you will inevitably want to be a Friend because that is who we turn to when we need support to protect this place.

Liza Michaelson

member, San Juan Island