Sequim’s balancing act: Sustained growth vs. sustaining rural character

City continues look to future, work on comprehensive plan

Sequim remains in a balancing act between its small-town roots and the growth of tomorrow.

City planners anticipate an estimated 3,400 people moving to the city over 20 years, but many current residents want to keep things rural and familiar. So where’s the balance?

That’s the central question behind the City of Sequim’s long-gestating 2015 Sequim Comprehensive Plan.

Chris Hugo, Sequim director of community development, said in the past 100 years the average growth rate in the City of Sequim was 1.5 percent but over the past 30 years, it’s been at 1.75 percent. His estimate of 3,400 people is based on a 2-percent annual increase.

In the past two years, Hugo and city staff sought input for the Comprehensive Plan to see which direction residents wanted the city to go or remain. Their most common answers, Hugo says, were “friendly” and “small town.”

“We kept hearing these same things and those are all nice things but where do you get that?” Hugo says.

“Not in Costco. You may run into friends there, but it’s mostly in intimate places like their neighborhood.”

His solution is three-part: encourage friendlier sidewalks and walkable streets, promote facades for new buildings and create better connections between neighborhoods.

To accomplish this, Hugo says the Comprehensive Plan aims to move developers away from garages facing streets and putting in alleyways and/or parking behind homes or in a community lot.

Hugo said they are trying to promote more walking in the plan, too.

“We want to have connectivity that is ubiquitous everywhere,” he said. “No matter where you want to go you can get there easily.”

Prior to 1980, Hugo said developers built on a grid system within the city limits and post-1980 in loops and cul de sacs. Hugo said modern traffic studies show grids are preferred and safer. “The size of the block and streets are what matters,” he said.

The city’s 2013 Transportation Master Plan, which makes up a portion of the Comprehensive Plan, proposes narrowing new streets and allowing parking on both sides to slow traffic, too.

Different opinions

However, some business owners and residents question the city plan’s direction.

Several realtors at the Sequim Association of Realtors meeting on May 13 countered some of Hugo’s proposals.

Tom Williamson, a broker with John L. Scott, said his clients prefer a closed neighborhood like a cul de sac.

“They say we know everyone in our neighborhood and we know every car,” Williamson said. “We hear that day after day.”

Hugo said residents can have a better sense of community if the neighborhood all around is built up nicely.

“You can’t make your community better by isolating yourself,” he said.

Realtors also questioned the safety of alleyways and homes on a grid.

Hugo said grids produce better traffic performance than loops and rather than just a few exits there are multiple which reduces congestion and increases walkability.

However, Williamson said residents prefer to drive rather than walk and they park as close as possible to buildings.

“That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Hugo said.

Later, Williamson told the Gazette he thinks the city council is attempting to design real estate that realtors can’t give away.

“(Customers) don’t want 800-foot-square houses. They want big houses,” he said. “They don’t want through streets. It’s much easier for a burglar to get in there. There is a lot of stuff they are looking to approve that sounds good but in reality you can’t sell it.”

Michael McAleer, managing broker at RE/MAX Fifth Avenue, told Hugo he thinks the city’s fees for a new property, averaging about $27,000, is discouraging people from moving into the city.

He said in 2015’s first quarter, 28 lots sold outside of city limits versus four in the city.

“Consumers are choosing to go into the county partly because of that,” McAleer said.

Hugo said within the city limits building permit applications are going up each year.

However, McAleer said developers are mostly building in the city because they purchased lots cents on the dollars.

When asked about unfinished subdivisions like Solana and Jennie’s Meadow, Hugo said these will not be grandfathered in under the new Comprehensive Plan and must abide by it and later zoning changes.

“We can’t ignore the mechanisms though and we’ll work with the designers to achieve the best results with the plan,” he said.

City and county

At the realtors’ meeting, retired managing broker Mike McAleer for RE/MAX asked how the city’s planning fits into the Comprehensive Plan despite the county’s Planning Policies document not being updated for 25 years.

Hugo said under the 1990 Growth Management Act, more development into rural areas than urban shouldn’t be allowed.

“We’re the only county in the state with a majority of growth going into the rural area,” he said.

“County commissioners and staff acknowledge more growth is going into the valley. But how many more lots are out there? Hundreds and hundreds because the county isn’t going to deregulate them. Water (availability) is going to affect that in the next 10 years significantly.”

Mary Ellen Winborn, Clallam County director of community development, told the Gazette the Planning Policies, which partners the county and its cities’ planning documents, expired in 1992 and is something the county needs to prioritize.

She also said Hugo requested the number of areas in the Sequim area outside of the city limits that could be developed.

“It’s proven to be a greater task than expected,” she said. “It’s important that all the cities and county work together. It’s just a matter of getting together. Plus the county’s Comprehensive Plan is due in summer 2016 and we’re also working on our Shoreline Management Plan.”

Hugo said the city’s growth could prove detrimental for the county’s quality of life, too.

“The county should be worried about 20,000-30,000 more (vehicle) trips that will go on county roads that aren’t arterials,” he said. “Those are kinds of things that are missing in this regional dialogue.”

Future plans TBA

Hugo said tentative approval of the draft of the Comprehensive Plan will run into July while the Sequim City Council holds a public comment discussion on June 22.

Some of the many elements of the plan also include: a proposed high tech light industrial zone off East Washington Street, creating a senior lifestyle district near North Fifth Avenue and an economic opportunity area like a college or high tech industry on the south side of U.S. Hwy 101.

Hugo said whatever regulations come forward in the future with the city, they must be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

Following tentative approval of the plan, Hugo plans to work up to two years on refining the city’s zoning code to match the Comprehensive Plan.

Physical copies of the plan are available at the City of Sequim’s Civic Center, Shipley Center and Sequim Library. Visit for more information.