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Need 5 to get to 124

Last Saturday some 13 people – mostly La Conner residents, along with Channel Drive and Pull and Be Damned neighbors and the Home Trust of Skagit executive director – met Mayor Marna Hanneman at the La Conner Swinomish Library for her monthly community check-in. There were mostly familiar faces around the conference room table. These residents have attended Hanneman’s earlier library gatherings, as many of them joined in town-organized community mingles on short-term rentals, First Street parking and the town-acquired Jenson property. That was Saturday’s focus.

No one would call this regular group –these 10 or so who consistently show – the mayor’s kitchen cabinet. That is a 200-year-old term referring to trusted advisors tapped informally for guidance. No, while this group is not random, it is not appointed or sought out by Hanneman. Instead, this group of primarily elders has self-selected to maintain an eternal vigilance, responding to the offer of giving input.

And they do. There is a lot of varied and extensive experience as well as the interesting lives these people have lived. Dave Buchan volunteers with a La Conner school district advisory council. He is concerned about the dramatically declining student enrollment here. He was at the Port of Skagit’s presentation to the La Conner Town Council and planning commission in May 2022. The Port, the school district and the town government are the three essential institutional anchors of our little corner of the world.

Buchan’s advice: a master plan is needed to address all the properties within the boundaries of this municipality, to take the long view and to be comprehensive.

He is right. Leaving housing development to individual property owners and developers is piecemeal, but not even an approach. It leaves the weight of the hand of the free market tilting the scales to maximum individual profit with little to no thought for the common good or the communal long term. It is helter-skelter. And it does not address the state policy of requiring housing projections based on population and income brackets as mandated by the Growth Management Act.

Hanneman said planning staff are inventorying properties townwide. She said the government is not in the business of building homes. And she championed collaboration, noted the complexities involved and the patience needed to not rush into decisions.

What she did not say was anything about what the town government – the elected council and professional staff – are thinking or saying. For while it is great to repeatedly seek citizen views, in our town of almost 1,000 residents;30 people is about 3% and 10 people is 1%. More voices are needed to be representative or the pulse of the community. But if there were 80 or 180 and if they were carrying signs and marching, they still might not capture the views of the majority of residents.

But there are five very important voices, critically needed for more than their opinion or analysis. These are the members of the La Conner Town Council. Their role is to represent the residents. They do not have to rush in or decide or vote. But their willingness to deliberate publicly during council meetings and take time with each other to discuss their concerns, analyses and approaches to the small steps that together will inform the community, will show there is elected leadership on a path to a still-future housing plan.

We know the town government, elected officials and staff, are committed to the biggest project before them – replacing the aged wastewater treatment plant. But that being the most expensive need does not make it the most challenging or most unsolvable project. Municipalities large and small throughout the country are in the same boat with old infrastructure.

Few students because there are not the right-priced places for families to reside; old pipes, water and wastewater needs, a town of 1,000 residents without the budget or staff resources: on our own it is one hand-wringing problem after another. Partnering closely with neighboring fundamental institutions that are also lacking a critical mass on their own is a step – and a decision.

In La Conner, residents will be helped knowing that their town council is deliberating and discussing and advancing these issues well ahead of any decisions or votes they will need to take.


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