Fast-Tracking the Comp Plan Update

The San Juan County Council has shifted into a full-throttle, get-this-thing-across-the-finish-line approach to the update process for San Juan County’s Comprehensive Plan, or Comp Plan. This has implications for the effectiveness of the Comp Plan and also for public engagement in the update process. The County’s fast track plan will add more pressure on all of us to be sure that the Comp Plan addresses development, housing, Forest and Agricultural resource lands, and climate resilience.

From what we’re hearing, the County Council, working with Dave Williams as the new head of the Department of Community Development (DCD), is accelerating the update process because they feel that it has dragged on too long. (The Update was due in 2016, so they do have a point.) They also have growing concerns about the grants that the County is not eligible for, due to the fact that the Comp Plan Update is overdue.

Unfortunately, one of the results of this new, fast-tracked approach is that the County now plans to remove all non-mandatory public input from the Comp Plan Update process, from here on out, in the name of expediency. The Town Halls and public surveys about climate or housing issues that were planned, for instance, have now been canceled. What remains is limited, legally-required public outreach that the County will conduct in early summer about the updated Comp Plan in its entirety, as well as Public Access time during Planning Commission and County Council meetings.

Moving forward, the County hopes to have a proactive and aggressive schedule of working on the various topics (“Elements” of the Comp Plan), so that the next Comp Plan Update process doesn’t get behind schedule like this one did. (The next Comp Plan Update is due in 2024, just two years from now.) In this sense, the Comp Plan becomes more of a living document, with updates to the various sections happening more deliberately, on a regular basis.

While this new, fix-the-deficiencies-later approach solves the problems of being behind schedule this time, it kicks the can down the road on critically important issues that many people in our community had hoped a newly updated Comp Plan would address immediately, including housing affordability and the climate crisis. The Planning Commissioners, to their credit, pushed back against the new schedule at their meeting on February 11th, offering to have further conversations at additional meetings in order to do justice to the topic of housing, for instance, while also keeping things moving.

In the coming months, Friends of the San Juans will continue working with other organizations and community efforts, encouraging San Juan County’s residents to engage effectively in the Comp Plan Update process. Even in this abbreviated form, the Comp Plan is still one of the key ways that our County can address the current explosion of development and put climate response and climate resiliency front and center. For information about joining in on our Comp Plan Action Team’s monthly meetings, email Brent Lyles.

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It’s important to us that any organization we are involved with actually gets things done, and the work that the Friends takes on so capably really does make a difference.

Ken and Mariann Carrasco

members, Orcas Island