Planning commission continues compensation plan hearing

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

The San Juan County Planning Commission held a hearing July 15 at its regular meeting, but several commenters felt they didn’t have enough time to process the roughly 700-page document. They also pointed out that the website had not been updated with the proposed changes to the draft plan.

The public hearing will continue on August 5 at 8:30 a.m. to ensure that the community is heard.

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

The other commissioners also expressed the wish to have more time to consider public comments.

County staff have been working on updating the plan for six years. The majority of the changes focus on projected population growth and confirm that infrastructure is available to accommodate growth while maintaining the county’s rural character. In addition to meeting the Growth Management Act’s periodic review requirement, the plan includes new analyses, assessments and inventories to be planned over the next 14 years.

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

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

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

“Washington State Ferries is in a freefall in its ability to provide service right now,” Paulsen said. WSF does not expect new boats until at least 2027. “We need to encourage the county to consider other options.”

Jay Kimball of Orcas Island highlighted the importance of addressing climate change.

“This climate emergency must be at the forefront. San Juan County will not be immune,” he said, adding that transportation is one of the biggest sources of carbon.

Kimball encouraged the county to look at electric public transportation and said planning should consider electric charging infrastructure and land for solar panels and battery storage.

Echoing Paulsen’s call for a more diverse marine 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 the plan should encourage cottage industries. Owners of forest or agricultural land are unable to make much money from their land due to the restrictions, according to Miller. Cottage industries are a way for these owners to keep and maintain their property. Miller explained that she was not talking about industrial companies but about small, relatively discreet companies. She also advocated allowing some landlords to have small houses on their property to help with housing.

Brent Lyles, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, also addressed the impacts of climate change as well as the preservation of natural resources.

“We must be proactive in protecting the natural resources of San Juan County,” he said. “At present, the compensation plan does not do enough to protect these parcels of land from destruction by development.”

He encouraged the commissioners to re-examine ways to increase farmland.

“Keeping the rural vibe going is key,” Lyles said. “We love this place because it’s rural.”

After the comment period closed, commissioners deliberated for several hours, reviewing all comments, including those received by email. In addition to the August 5 session, a public hearing is scheduled for August 19 at 8:30 a.m. regarding the mockup maps. According to San Juan County Planning and Development Director Dave Williams, about 30 property owners are requesting designation changes.

Once the planning commission is complete, the mockup plan will go before the San Juan County Board. Council is expected to hold its public hearings on the plan in late fall.

To view the draft plan, visit

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