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Council meets at annual retreat

LA CONNER From a symbolic view of Arlingtons Five Hills in the future to a nuts and bolts discussion on what to do about crime, the Arlington City Council spent 11 hours on two sunny spring days last weekend in a meeting room with continuing discussions over lunches and dinners, attempting to prioritize its tasks for the year with the annual City Council retreat in
La Conner.
Of most immediate importance, Council directed staff to explore using workshops instead of early-morning committee meetings for working out the details on issues.
Sometimes I hear the same stuff over and over, said Mayor Margaret Larson.
In recent years, issues have been discussed with a committee chair, two other Council members, the department director and an administrator. The committee decisions were forwarded to the Council in the form of a motion. In certain cases some Council members didnt see the information until action was to be taken.
With the new strategy, for a trial period, simple decisions will be made by the committee chair, department head and administrator, who will also request workshops.
The decision came as a result of a minor snafu at the recent Feb. 5 City Council meeting the city and staff realized that committee structure was not the most efficient strategy for preparing everyone at the table for making decisions.
On Feb. 5, the Council was asked to approve changes in the Land Use Code that had been reviewed in the Community Development Committee. When presented to the Council for approval, some had not seen the proposed changes. Also, two community members stood up to express their concerns that the information to be decided on had not been available for public review.
I went to the Web site to read the material and it was not up to date, Virginia Hatch told Council along with another resident who was interested in the changes in the Land Use Code.
This will make it a lot easier to get to work in Everett, Councilwoman Sally Lien said.
Changes on the Land Use Code will be one of two topics at the first City Council workshop which will start at 5:30 p.m. before the next City Council meeting, which is Tuesday, Feb. 20, due to Presidents Day on Monday.
The second topic on the first workshop agenda will be site-specific development, another issue discussed at length at the retreat.
Site-specific development can be a controversial issue, said City Administrator Allen Johnson. Because its not all black and white and, its hard to say who it benefits. The concept entails having flexibility in codes so that building uses and types can be adjusted according to the topography of the land, environmental features, location and the population.
Of particular concern, said Johnson, is the Boyden neighborhood, hidden on a steep hillside north of Gleneagle. Already developed into five-acre lots, the area has potential for significant in-fill, according to the Growth Management Act.
The concept also has implications for the Master Planned Community of the Brekhus-Beach annexation area on the east side of Burn Hill which will be the receiving areas for the transfer of development rights in the valley.
Instead of separating single family, multifamily zones and commercial zones, it will all be blended together, with the best use according to the situation.
As for crime, Councilman Graham Smith encouraged city staff to hold town hall meetings on the issue, although others were concerned that its difficult to get people to attend. After some discussion, the task was left to Chief Gray to develop a proposal on how best to deal with crime in the neighborhoods.
Chief John Gray pointed out that its not as easy as just arresting more crooks.
With jails already crowded, if you put one person in jail, then someone else comes out. I would be hesitant to cause a rapist to be released.
With all seven Council members, the mayor and 10 department heads and staff gathered around the table, City Attorney Steve Peiffle wore a different hat much of the day, as facilitator with Fire Chief Jim Rankin documenting input.
Based on the Saturday morning small group brainstorming session, Facilitator Peiffle suggested focusing first on the big picture and then narrowing down on organizational processes.
Council members resisted, however, preferring to deal with more specific issues at hand.
Councilman Steve Baker admitted a lack of interest in the visioning process.
Until theres time, date and money, I ignore the vision.
Assistant Administrator Kristin Banfield insisted on at least a scaled down visioning of the Five Hills.
We need some guidance on how to proceed, she said.
Inspired by an encroaching Marysville that has claimed as far north as 184th Street on the west side of I-5 as its urban growth area, and a recent comment from an official in Lake Stevens who recently suggested to her that they would be heading north on the east side of SR 9, Larson spoke of laying claim to the west and north of Arlington.
Its a very long time out, of course, she said. But we need to get our name on the maps.
While there was caution about moving too big, too fast, Chief Gray was supportive of having a plan.
If you dont have a plan, youll be at the mercy of those who do. Gray reminded the group.
Public Works Director Len Olive agreed.
We need clarity in vision in order to guide daily decisions, Olive said.
It was the director of community development Brad Collins who suggested viewing the Five Hills of Arlington.

The Five Hills were identified as follows:
First Hill current Arlington, including airport and Smokey Point.
Second Hill the Urban Growth Area south of 172nd Street.
Third Hill East Burn Hill and the proposed Brekhus Beach annexation.
Fourth Hill West of I-5 and the freeway corridor.
Fifth Hill North of the Stillaguamish River.
Although the second and third hills are the big issues at hand as well as maintaining services to First Hill, the Fourth and Fifth hills comprise the future of Arlington in 50 years or so.
We have got to address the future of Arlington before someone else does it for us, Larson said.
Another interesting brief topic of discussion came from Johnson.
We are looking at alternative funding strategies for the Arlington Library, he said, cautioning that discussions were very early and that some of the people around the table didnt even know about it.
There are other funding options, he said. We are looking at a lease-build option with the city proceeding to build the building. The city already owns the property.
City Council and staff gathered Friday evening at the La Conner Country Inn for an early morning start Saturday. They checked out and went home after their half-day meeting Sunday.
It was exhausting, said Loretta Cortelyou, assistant to the mayor.

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