Lopez expresses support for an Urban Growth Area

Rip Van Camp lashes out at those who undertook a petition opposing a Lopez Village Urban Growth Area.Amanda Leidig photo

By Amanda Leidig
Islands Sounder


Lopez Island, WA - The issue was whether Lopez Village should become an Urban Growth Area (UGA), but affordable housing was the hot topic of more than 100 people who attended a Dec. 4 meeting with San Juan County commissioners Rhea Miller, Darcie Nielsen and John Evans.

Most who spoke expressed support for a UGA, although some favored making Lopez Village a Limited Area of More Intensive Rural Development (LAMIRD). It will be up to the commissioners to decide.

Miller, the only commissioner who spoke at the meeting, said a UGA was best for Lopez Village, and she he reminded the audience that without the urban designation, popular local eating establishments like Holly B’s, plus affordable housing projects Coho and Morgantown wouldn’t be there.

Miller’s emphasis on the need for more affordable housing in future years was echoed Oscar Smaalders, who said that in 2020 Lopez will require about 300 affordable and moderate housing units. Smaalders felt that about 150 of those units could be found in the rural areas of Lopez but the rest will have to be built in the village. “A higher density is needed to accommodate affordable housing,” said Smaalders.

“The UGA is the only designation that can meet affordable housing needs,” added Sandy Wood, director of the Lopez Community Land Trust, the agency which has coordinated all local affordable housing projects.

Richard Ward reminded the audience that a UGA doesn’t mean prisons and sidewalks, said Ward. “The GMA provides a flexible tool to accommodate future growth; that tool is the UGA,” said Ward. “LAMIRD will not accommodate future growth.”

County Commissioner Darcie Nielsen didn’t speak at the meeting, but she told The Sounder Monday that she was leaning toward a UGA. “It may be the only way to go,” she said.

At the same time, the San Juan commissioner questioned whether both the crowd and the speakers at the Dec. 4 meeting represented Lopez as a whole. She charged that “some non-UGA folks felt intimidated” by the majority at the meeting, offering that she had been led to believe that most Lopezians want the Village to be “small and rural.”

It was a similar view which convinced Commissioner John Evans that a LAMIRD might better fit the wishes of Lopez Island citizens. Evans, like Nielsen, didn’t speak at the meeting, but he told The Sounder that “the citizens of Lopez might not understand what they’re getting into if they go UGA. The UGA is about density,” Evans explained. “There are no assurances that it will be used for affordable housing.”

Steve Ludwig felt a UGA would carry huge financial costs with it. “Urbanization drives up the costs of land and living,” he said. Ludwig charged that making Lopez Village a UGA will threaten the ecology of Lopez and the drinking water supplies. “You can’t do that if you encourage urbanization,” said Ludwig.

“A LAMIRD is flexible also,” said Diane Robertson, who felt Lopez could meet its senior housing need through a LAMIRD designation by placing senior housing in the center of the island.

—Amanda Leidig is a staff reporter for islandsssounder.com and The
Islands’ Sounder. She can be reached at (360) 376-4500 or


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