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Comprehensive Plan Update

Posted on: November 30, 2022

Newly Adopted Comprehensive Plan Will Serve as the County’s Road Map for Next 20 Years

Aerial shot of the islands with overlaying text reading "comprehensive plan update"

County Council officially adopted the Plan on November 30 – marking the culmination of six years of work

SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. November 30, 2022 – San Juan County Council adopted the 2036 Comprehensive Plan Update today after six years of meetings, public hearings, and input. The several-hundred-page document will serve as the road map for future development, growth management, County programs, and more over the next two decades.

“This is such an important achievement for the County,” said Councilmember Jamie Stephens, who has spent half of his 12-year council career working on the Plan. “I’ve been part of difficult decision-making over the years in hopes that bringing it up to date will help the County plan more easily and mindfully for future growth.”

The 2036 Comprehensive Plan Update (Plan) process began in 2016 and has been a major focus for the Council and the County’s Department of Community Development. The Planning Commission dedicated 71 meetings to the Comprehensive Plan Update over the last six years, and since mid-September, the Council has held special meetings to review different elements of the Plan including land use, housing, transportation, historic/archeological preservation, official maps, and more.

This accomplishment is possible thanks to the work of countless members of the public, Planning Commission volunteers, past and present councilmembers and County employees, consultants, and more, who contributed their time, talents, and expertise.  

What is the Comprehensive Plan? 

The Plan is San Juan County’s principal planning document. The County has the responsibility of planning for growth management and must plan to meet the everyday needs of the anticipated future population. The goals and policies in the Plan directly influence development regulations, programs, and other plans that shape everyday life. 

“This plan is a byproduct of tremendous community input,” said David Williams, the County’s Director of Community Development. “It reflects the views and attitudes of the islands and incorporates goals and policies related to the protection of the environment.” 

The Plan aims to accomplish the 14 planning goals set by the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA). In addition to goals and policies, the Plan contains other documents such as technical appendices, official maps, subarea plans, and the plans of jurisdictions and organizations whose work coincides with the County’s. New regulations, programs, and other plans should align with the Plan. 

Reflecting San Juan County’s Vision

The County’s Vision, developed by the community, is the Plan’s north star that guides Plan elements and leads the County toward the future. It shapes the goals and policies of each Plan element, including housing, government, climate change, agriculture, and more. In designing the Vision collectively through extensive workshopping and deliberation, the community identified the nature of essential aspects of life in the San Juan Islands. Read the County’s Vision here. 

“When I reflect on my time with the Plan, it’s been about understanding and embracing the community’s vision for the future of the San Juan Islands,” said Council Chair Christine Minney. “So many folks have lent their time and skills to updating this Plan and officially adopting it is a success for everybody in the County.”

Public Involvement 

The public played a key role in developing and updating the Plan. It was shaped by early and continuous public involvement from those participating in workshops, surveys, public hearings and gatherings, and more. 

“This is the people’s document on how they want their County planned,” said Councilmember Cindy Wolf. “We now have an agreed upon direction, in many areas of life, for where we want to guide the County in terms of development.” 

While revising the San Juan County Comprehensive Elements and appendices, the Department of Community Development released multiple drafts of each for public comment. Throughout the Plan update process, several topics were particularly important to the public. Sense of community and preservation of rural character were concerns the public often brought forward. Concerns about tourism management, natural resources, wildlife protection, and climate change mitigation and resilience emerged. Housing availability and affordability were important public concerns. The community rallied to support farming by adding a new agriculture section to the Vision. 

“One of the big philosophical shifts we’ve seen in this Plan is looking at life through a lens of climate resilience,” said Councilmember Wolf. “This fundamental understanding is reflected throughout the Plan and will help us think more critically about environmental concerns.” 

Plan Implementation 

The Plan is implemented by various parties throughout the County. It is used by the Department of Community Development to guide land use decisions and amend the development code. 

“The adoption of this Plan is exciting because it will allow the County to begin to implement updated policies that will help us solve some of the most pressing island issues with regards to housing, land use, transportation, and climate resilience,” said Sophia Cassam, one of the lead planners working on the Plan.  

The Capital Facilities Plan includes many budgets used countywide for allocating funding for County facilities and services. Public Works uses the Transportation Element to plan for the development and maintenance of transportation infrastructure. The Housing Element informs and guides housing programs run by the County and in partnership with local organizations. 

The Plan is estimated to be implemented on April 1, 2023. Those interested in reading the newly adopted Plan can visit the Comprehensive Plan landing page. 

About San Juan County’s Department of Community Development 

San Juan County’s Department of Community Development is responsible for building permits and inspections, code enforcement, land use designations, long range planning, and more. The department’s main office is located at 135 Rhone Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. For more information about San Juan County’s Department of Community Development, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1778/Community-Development.

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