A Few Ideas to Consider…

Smart Growth Policies

Assumption Number One:

An acceptable comprehensive plan for San Juan County must comply with:


The Vision Statement describes San Juan County's Future.

It says we want to:

Grow slow–and–Stay small and rural

Why? In order to preserve:

Why is the Vision Statement Important?

(CP, Intro, page 1)

(signed by the BOCC in 1995).



The Growth Management Act has 13 Goals

The first 2 goals are the cornerstones:

Goal 1: Urban Growth. Encourage development in urban areas where adequate

Public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner.

Goal 2: Reduce Sprawl. Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped rural

land into sprawling, low-density development.

GMA also requires all comprehensive plans to be "internally consistent";

that is,

one part of a plan cannot contradict another part.


Final Decision and Order (FDO)

of the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.


In addition to several required changes due to density-related

problems, the FDO stated:

"Intervenor Symons correctly pointed out that the maps were also significantly inconsistent with the vision statement set forth as the guiding principle for the CP. These inconsistencies, caused by the retention of 1980 densities, do not comply with the GMA."

The FDO is saying that, for the comp plan to comply with the GMA,

the maps must be consistent with the Vision Statement.


Assumption Number Two:

Excessive population degrades the quality of life in San Juan County.

a. Fast population growth degrades the quality faster

b. The buildout population implied by the current comp plan is simply too big.

Way too big.



1. For 100 years, (1870-1970), SJC population was on average less than 4000 people and did not fluctuate significantly.

2. Starting in 1970, the county population started growing at approximately 5% per year and has held that approximate rate for 30 years.

The current population is about 13,000 people.


3. There are currently about 14,000 legal parcels of land in San Juan County, most of them undeveloped.


4. The current comprehensive plan allows many of these parcels to be subdivided, increasing to a total of 43,000 parcels.


5. The planning department estimates that the 43,000 parcels will support 90,000 people.

This residential population would not include the population impacts of either guest houses or tourists.

6. Property taxpayers in San Juan County have been subsidizing the costs of each new residence for decades, as tax revenues collected from new construction do not pay for the increased costs of services created by these residences.

Undeveloped land requires no new taxes because there are no services
needed to support it.


The Big Questions:

1. How big will the county get?

2. How fast will it get there?

3. Where will the new people go?

4. How do we assure adequate affordable housing?

5. What will it cost us?

In real money, such as tax dollars?

(Residential development does not pay for itself taxwise.)

In non-economic costs, such as loss of peace and quiet, crowded ferry lines, rising school and domestic violence, loss of open space and pristine natural environment, etc.

Every comp plan embodies answers to these questions.

Every comp plan may not answer them directly.

The Questions explained:

How big will we get?

A density map will answer the question, assuming the numbers are calculated and published along with the map.

How fast will we get there?

In the absence of a specified growth rate (and no plan to date has such a specification), we will grow as fast as the market commands.

Where will the new people go?

In the absence of an allocation scheme, the new growth will likely follow the familiar market-driven trend, which is, that residential development occurs overwhelmingly in the rural areas, in an increasingly suburban pattern of sprawl. Approximately 92% of new building permits issued in the last few years are in rural areas; 8% are in activity centers.

How do we assure adequate affordable housing?

In the absence of a viable affordable housing implementation plan, we will continue to lose community diversity as the market alone drives land and housing costs. San Juan County has a critical shortage of affordable housing and no effective plan exists for dealing with this shortage. The county comp plan's housing element was found to be

"out of compliance" with the GMA.

What will it cost us?

In tax dollars, no one knows.

In non-economic costs, we can only

imagine the loss of peace and quiet,

crowded ferry lines, etc.

Without specific comp plan direction, SJC will

In the 20 years between 1970 and 1990, the population of the

county tripled and real estate taxes collected increased 12 fold.

This unplanned process is neither mandated by law nor necessarily inevitable.

County government has the legal right to craft a plan that fits within our triangle.


We could agree to make the Plan effective.

We have the opportunity to:

A Possible Strategy:

Connect the issuance of building permits for new homes

to the policies of the comprehensive plan.

Currently, our comp plan's fundamental goals

are ignored by and irrelevant to the

process of obtaining a building permit.

1. Determine a growth rate consistent with GMA and the Vision Statement.

A logical rate is 2.5%

a. This is what SJC chose for the current plan.

b. This is what GMA prescribes for SJC.

c. This is 'slow enough' to be consistent with the Vision Statement.

2. Allocate growth between "urban" and "rural/resource" areas, so that annual growth occurs proportionally between these areas.

A reasonable starting place is 50% of the new growth to occur in Activity Centers and 50% to occur in rural areas.

a. This is consistent with the Vision Statement.

b. This is consistent with GMA goals.

3. Determine a maximum population consistent with The Vision Statement.

Choose a density designation scheme along with a purchase and retirement of development rights scheme to achieve a maximum (full) population while spreading the costs of achieving this objective among the following stakeholders who want the county to achieve the Vision Statement:

1. Those who live here and own property here.

2. Those who live here and don't own property here.

3. Those who do not live here and own property here.

4. Those who want to live here.

5. Those who visit here.

Each of these stakeholders wants the county to stay more or less like it is and

grow, as it must, slowly.

4. Limit Building Permits for new homes to correspond with the agreed upon growth rate and allocation scheme.


Given a current estimated population of 13,000 and an agreed-upon compounded growth rate of 2.5% per year, the total population of the county in 20 years (2020) will be about 21,960 people, or 8960 additional people. Assuming 2 people per house, this is about 4480 new houses total, or 224 houses per year for 20 years.

(For comparison, the planning department states that permits for 286 "new housing starts" were issued in 1998.)

Building permits for new homes might be issued in 4 different categories,

each allocated 25% of the total annual building permits (i.e., 25% of 224 = 56):

1. First Come, first Served (56 permits)

2. Lottery (56 permits)

3. Auction to highest bidder (56 permits)

4. Affordable housing applicants (56 permits)


First Come, first Served.

You don't need to be lucky or rich to get a permit, just patient.


Anyone can enter and win. You don't need to be rich.


Those who can may enter and bid for the right to build a home now. The excess money earned goes to purchase and retire development rights and subsidize affordable housing programs.

Affordable Housing.

The reality is, we're moving toward a mix of Aspen and Martha's Vineyard. A haven for the rich. As a community we need to insure that we have new housing that is affordable to counterbalance powerful market forces. We need to preserve community diversity and we need to have housing for employees of local businesses.


Allocation Scheme:

Each of the 56 permits in the 4 categories suggested would be issued according to the proportion chosen between urban (i.e., Activity Center) and rural growth.

If the proportion chosen were 50% each, then 28 permits would be available each year for each of the lottery, first come, auction and affordable housing categories (112 total) for Activity Center growth.

The remaining 112 permits would be available for rural growth on the same basis.


A policy that allocates growth between Activity Center and rural areas insures that the goals of both GMA and the Vision Statement are met.

Buildout Population and Density:


Start with the Vision Statement, not with the existing density map.

Informal surveys to date suggest a buildout population no greater than doubling the current population would be the maximum population consistent with the Vision Statement. This is the approximate look and feel of the county now in August, the peak visitor month.

Note that the buildout population does not include visitors; visitors more than double the residential year round population during the peak summer months.

If a "density-map-derived" buildout population is greater than the Vision Statement derived maximum population, then utilize a scheme to reduce the "excess" development rights, and hence "excess" population potential, to the level of the Vision Statement population.

Simple example:



More likely example:

(achieved by reducing the potential subdivision of today's 14,000 parcels from 43,000 to 25,000 by changing allowable densities through downzoning in rural areas).

Suggested policy to retire these "excess" development rights:

Link issuance of building permits for new homes with requirement that proportional excess development right(s) (DR's) be simultaneously extinguished.

Using previous example:

13,000 divided by persons/household (use 2 for simplicity): 6,500

Where do Building Permit applicants for new homes

get these 2 "retired" DR's?

From either funds raised or DR's donated by the Stakeholders

who want the Vision Statement implemented.

Who are they again?

1. Those who live here and own property here.

2. Those who live here and don't own property here.

3. Those who do not live here and own property here.

4. Those who want to live here.

5. Those who visit here.

Affordable housing applicants might have access to DR's purchased from funds raised by the Building Permit auction process.

Some mechanisms to get funds from these stakeholders already exist.

Others would need to be developed.



We achieve the Vision Statement buildout population while spreading the load for getting what we say we want among the broadest constituency.

We achieve the Vision Statement buildout population systematically and carefully.

We build what we want slowly and fairly.

Getting There:

We don't have time to achieve all of this in the next 180 days.

We can set interim policies that say we will do this.

These interim policies will mandate

a public process to discuss:

if it isn't about 26,000


We can do this in a reasonable time frame, like 3 years.

We can commit ourselves to honoring what we spent a year crafting,

The Vision Statement.

We can commit ourselves to an open, thorough and sincere public process.

We can commit ourselves to maintaining our diverse community.

We can slow our growth to a level that is fair and reasonable.

This is not rocket science.

This is doable.