Growth on Vashon: It’s time to talk about it

Feb 14 2007

Bob Powell is an unlikely voice in the wilderness. He’s quiet, unassuming and seemingly dispassionate. And yet the research he recently completed on Vashon’s potential growth — a snapshot into the future, assuming current zoning laws, water supplies and trends remain the same — should be viewed as a wake-up call to all of us who want to see Vashon retain its color, vibrancy and socioeconomic diversity. Or in other words, all of us who want to “keep Vashon weird.”

His research suggests that the area zoned as rural and agricultural lands will continue to be frayed by hodge-podge growth and development. The one-house-per-five-acres zoning that some of us think holds sway in the rural zone is almost completely irrelevant on Vashon, since most of the Island’s parcels were carved out before that zoning restriction was put in place and are thus “grandfathered” in. Growth will likely continue in nearly all corners of the Island, fragmenting the forests and carving up the pastures that give Vashon its delightfully rural feel.

But don’t think these houses squeezed onto the last remaining parcels in Vashon’s rural zone will be affordable: While many parcels remain, Powell’s research shows, they’ll also be the hardest to build on, requiring people with money who can overcome the hurdles of rural development.

Meanwhile, the one place where affordable housing could be built — the area zoned as Vashon Town — has, as most of us know, a water crisis. While there are many remaining parcels in the swath of land that runs from about a mile north of town to a mile south, there are no new water shares, essentially freezing all development except for a few projects already in the works.

Powell’s research is troubling. And yet it’s also a gift to the Island. By offering up — transparently, equitably and thoughtfully — what many Islanders are already calling the most thorough analysis ever of Vashon’s growth potential, he’s given us an opportunity to begin thinking collectively about the Island’s future. What do we want a “built-out” Vashon to look like? How do we achieve affordable housing? Can we maintain a meaningful agricultural zone? Are we on our way towards becoming Nantucket, or can we, indeed, keep Vashon weird?

These kinds of discussions are among the hardest a community can have, and consensus will, of course, be impossible. But perhaps there is a shared vision that the majority of Islanders hold, and perhaps there’s a way to begin working thoughtfully towards it. Powell has given us the first key ingredient: information. It’s time now for those courageous, frank and heartfelt conversations to begin.

© Copyright 2007 Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber