Camp Casey is Whidbey’s biggest icon of its post-pioneer past, but the camp is beginning to show its age.  - Spencer Webster / The Record
Camp Casey is Whidbey’s biggest icon of its post-pioneer past, but the camp is beginning to show its age.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

New challenge filed against expansion plan

COUPEVILLE — Different, but not different enough.

A local environmental group is continuing to fight Seattle Pacific

University’s proposed expansion at Camp Casey.

The university asked for a zoning change from the county late last year, which would clear the way for the six new retreat buildings, 40 cabins, an educational center and a chapel.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network filed an appeal last week that challenges the county’s environmental review of the expansion proposal. WEAN has long fought the university’s attempts to further develop at Camp Casey, a turn-of-the-last-century military installation and one of Whidbey Island’s top historic icons.

While WEAN praised changes that have been made to the camp’s master plan since it was first released, the group said it was still concerned about possible impacts to the property’s “Heritage Forest,” a 25-acre wooded area with 200-year-old trees that straddles the camp property.

WEAN said the new plan includes buildings that are too close to trees in the Heritage Forest. The group has also raised concerns about trail use and surface water runoff from the proposed development.

SPU officials were not caught off guard by the WEAN challenge.

“I am not surprised that an appeal was filed,” said Darrell Hines, manager for Camp Casey’s master planning project.

“I thought the issues raised in the WEAN appeal, for the most part, can be addressed,” he added. “Obviously, in some situations, I think they are flat-out wrong. There may be some misunderstanding of what our plan is.”

In September 2007, the university applied for an amendment to Island County’s comprehensive plan that would allow the university to change its zoning designation from rural to existing master planned resort.

The master plan was designed to allow Camp Casey to generate more revenue, rather than use SPU revenue from student fees, to handle needed improvements.

The university bought the property from the federal government in 1956 and has since used it for a conference center. SPU officials want the camp to become financially self-supporting.

“We need to find ways to generate revenue and we want to do that in ways that are consistent with what the community wants and accepts, and protects the environment,” Hines said.

“We do believe there are ways to develop increased conference services with nicer facilities that will make people interested in going there,” he said.

One issue that Hines said WEAN got wrong was the percentage of impervious area that would induce surface water runoff.

“WEAN said that we would have 15 percent impervious surfaces. That is too high,” he said. “It is more like 11 to 12 percent, and in the development area, we will create ways to make it even less.”

WEAN officials could not be reached for comment. In the organization’s appeal, they noted they were filing the appeal before the end of the deadline period because they would not be on Whidbey when the county completes its environmental review of the proposal.

In initial reviews of the application of the master plan, Anthony Boscolo, a planner with Island County, expressed concern over the proposed amount of impervious surfaces in the plan.

But he also said that the issue could be addressed in detail as the plan moved forward.

“We are concerned about surface water runoff, with structures and roads in a confined area,” Boscolo said. “The standards are to keep all the water on-site as much as possible. The plan can still meet approval and the details can be worked out later.”

Some of the mitigations proposed to control surface water run-off due to an increase in impervious surfaces include using low-impact development techniques that will direct the water into the ground and not into Puget Sound.

Boscolo agreed, in theory, that the zoning change from rural to existing master planned resort was appropriate.

“This master planned resort designation will allow current uses to be authorized and would allow those uses to be expanded upon and maintained,” he said.

“This is the most logical way to proceed. If they ever wanted to expand their services, like interior remodeling in keeping with the historical nature of the site, the existing master planned resort would allow them to do that.”

Camp Casey has existed in a resort-like setting since 1956 and certainly before the county’s comprehensive plan set it to a rural zoning designation, said Boscolo.

In WEAN’s appeal comments, there was no mention of the proposed zoning change.

In fact, the concerns the group raised appeared minor compared to its previous appeals that began in 2003 when SPU first initiated its development proposal.

WEAN praised revisions to the plan that have been made since then, but said they did not go far enough.

The earlier plan, WEAN claimed, put the conference center “right in the middle” of the Heritage Forest.

“We recognize that the master plan is a vast improvement from the previous invalidated proposal in that it no longer proposes to place development deeply within the Heritage Forest,” WEAN founder Steve Erickson said in the appeal.

But he also questioned whether the Heritage Forest boundary was accurate enough.

“Determining the actual southern boundary of the Heritage Forest is paramount,” Erickson said.

Erickson surmised that if development encroached on the southern side of the Heritage Forest, there could be an increased chance of storms knocking trees over.

“Increased exposure to windthrow due to deforestation south of the Heritage Forest is also a key concern that WNHP should be asked to comment on,” Erickson wrote. “The highly compacted glacial till causes shallow rooting of the trees.”

Shallow rooting is offset by interwoven root systems and disturbing that system would cause unraveling of the system, Erickson said.

Tree removal near structures and places where people would congregate formed another issue Erickson hoped to resolve.

“The proposed ‘hazard tree program’ and ‘Tree Retention Standards’ in concert with the close proximity of structures (including vehicle parking) virtually assures that all trees within 150 feet of the structures will eventually be removed,” Erickson wrote.

Most of the Heritage Forest lies outside the boundaries of the master plan. Approximately 8.7 acres of the 25-acre forest are within the plan’s boundaries, according to the Camp Casey Forest Management Plan from September 2007.

The county has said it will allow no buildings, roads or parking areas to be closer than 50 feet from the biggest trees in the Heritage Forest.

WEAN also raised concerns about existing trails within the Heritage Forest.

Unauthorized trails in the forest should be hidden from hikers by placing logs and tree limbs in the way, said Erickson, who also asked for photographic monitoring of vegetation along the trails.

SPU officials hope the concerns can be addressed so the university can move forward with its expansion plans.

“It would be nice to resolve the issues and move ahead after this point in time without further conflict, confrontation or disagreement,” Hines said.

“Whatever will be, will be. That’s how it goes. We think all these things can be addressed.”

1890 — U.S. Army builds Fort Casey.

1901 — Fort Casey activated and becomes one of three major coastal artillery forts designed to protect Puget Sound from invasion by sea. The fort’s big guns are first fired on Sept. 11.

1903 — Admiralty Head Lighthouse is built.

1953 — Department of Defense deactivates Fort Casey and transfers the property to the General Services Administration for disposal.

1956 — Seattle Pacific University purchases 87 acres, which included the fort’s administrative buildings and housing, to create the Camp Casey Conference Center.

2003 — Seattle Pacific University proposes construction plans for Camp Casey Conference Center. It also proposes a zoning designation change from rural to special review district. In May, a Whidbey Environmental Action Network appeal goes to Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. In August, WEAN pickets SPU alumni and the hearings board rejects the zoning designation change.

2004 — SPU requests the zoning designation be returned to rural.

2006 — Island County approves a comprehensive plan amendment for an existing master planned resort.

2007 — SPU proposes a zoning designation change from rural to existing master planned resort and submits a modified conference center master plan in September.

2008 — WEAN appeals the SPU conference center proposal and zoning change request.

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