Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Aug. 16, 2022

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Skagit County to further study farmworker housing, other proposed policy changes

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Mount Vernon — Skagit County will consider allowing farmworker housing on agricultural land — one of several possible changes coming this year to county planning policies.

Meanwhile, the Skagit County Board of Commissioners voted against further study this year on proposals regarding urban development in rural areas and the monitoring of seawater intrusion in Guemes Island wells.

The applicant in the farmworker housing proposal, Tony Wisdom of Skagit Valley Farms, envisions repurposing old, underused buildings on nonproductive farmland into apartment-style housing for agricultural workers.

Now that the proposal has been included on the county docket, staff will review it for potential legal or environmental issues, and the county Planning Commission will continue to study it, Jenn Rogers, assistant long range planner, said Tuesday at a meeting of the county commissioners.

The docketing process, which is done annually, allows residents to propose changes to county rules on land use, development and planning.

While it won’t be included on the docket, the county commissioners agreed that something must be done about seawater intrusion in wells on Guemes Island.

Island residents have seen wells polluted with seawater since the 1990s, making their wells unusable. As more wells are drilled, the problem gets worse, says a group of Guemes Island residents.

“So far, I feel like we just haven’t been able to do anything of substance,” county Commissioner Lisa Janicki said. “There’s going to be saltwater in all those wells if we don’t up our game here.”

Hal Hart, the county’s director of planning, said this isn’t the right process to consider saltwater intrusion on Guemes Island. This issue deals with county health code, and should be handled through the Public Health department.

Commissioner Peter Browning said regardless of who is responsible, something needs to be done quickly. He asked that Hart research how this issue can be resolved.

The commissioners decided to defer on a proposal to create a provision in county policy to consider fully contained communities — urban-style communities in rural areas.

The proposal easily generated the most public comment. Of the 177 written and verbal comments on the issue of allowing fully contained communities, the vast majority were opposed.

Comments cited concerns with traffic, urban sprawl and a lack of preservation of agricultural land.

This issue will come up again in 2023, Rogers said.

One proposal docketed for further study would allow for land near Bertelsen Farms off Starbird Lane to be rezoned so the applicant could build a restaurant and campground, and offer outdoor recreational activities.

Another would allow county residents to install small wind turbines as a way of generating clean energy.

The complete text of the proposed amendments and any public comments are available at skagitcounty.net/2022cpa.

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