News

Records detail origins of deal

LANGLEY — Island County fair officials wanted much more than they got in the proposed settlement offer over Fairgrounds Road, according to documents released by the county this week.

Public records also show the settlement was almost endangered by an eleventh-hour request by fair administrator Sandey Brandon for access through the construction zone every weekday except Monday.

Langley officials announced an “agreement in principle” on April 18 with fair and county officials in the fight over Fairgrounds Road, a city street that Langley wants to build across the southern tip of the county fairgrounds to lessen future traffic troubles in town.

Fair officials have fought the city’s attempts to get an easement across the fairgrounds for more than a year, but the county fair board and county commissioners agreed to settle the dispute with Langley earlier this month.

The agreement, when finalized, would end the city’s condemnation lawsuit against Island County in exchange for a road easement.

Details of the “agreement in principle” came to light early last week when Langley released a draft copy of the agreement. The early draft of the settlement charted a path through the issues that have been an obstacle to the easement request, from handling storm-water run-off at the fairgrounds, to resolving potential noise complaints, to closing the road during the annual fair.

Public records obtained from Island County, however, indicated that fair officials had a long list of items they wanted addressed before they would agree to grant an easement.

Conditions for an easement approval included a $100 fee that Langley would pay the county for every home built south of the fairgrounds. The fee would be assessed at the time that any building permit was issued for homes south of North View, east of Al Anderson Avenue, northwest of Langley Road and north of Maxwelton Road. The fees would be earmarked for use by the fair, according to a two-page list of conditions that fair officials presented to county commissioners on April 2.

The list also includes projects long sought by fair officials, but too expensive to build under the fair’s annual allotment of county money for fairgrounds improvements.

Those projects included a restroom for the campgrounds, as well as a pump-out station for recreational vehicles.

Fair board members also requested a sewer line extension to the fair midway — the row of food booths near the carnival area of the fairgrounds.

Also, fair officials wanted the city to abandon any attempts to get school district property on the north side of the fairgrounds.

In a cover letter, fair board chairman Dan Ollis said the list of conditions for granting the easement was a draft.

“The board has not blessed this completely, but is 90 percent there,” he wrote.

A bigger deal

According to the draft list of conditions, fair board members wanted:

• Proof that other easements had been obtained and recorded for other private property needed to build Fairgrounds Road;

• The final road plans approved by county engineers;

• A straight road constructed, using the least amount of fairgrounds property;

• The road built with standards approved by the county, and not the city;

• A closed drainage system for the street with no open ditches;

• Removable fencing next to the road;

• The road built at the same level as existing property, to the extent possible;

• A guaranteed, Monday-to-Monday closure of the road during fair week;

• Closure of the road for large events by special permit;

• A ban on above-ground utility easements;

• A “no gripe coming” arrangement to prevent future residents from complaining about the use of the fairgrounds;

• A $100 fee for all building permits for homes south of the fairgrounds, and the money deposited in the county treasury for use by the fair;

• A commitment for the city, county and fair board to work to develop a city plan and ordinances for the fair and a change of the zoning for the fairgrounds;

• The construction of a manure holding area;

• The construction of a storm-water run-off detention pond on the uphill property, and the control of storm-water so it would not impact the fair;

• The city to repair and fix any damage to the fairground if storm-water water becomes an issue after the road is in place;

• The construction of a restroom and an RV pump-out station for the campgrounds;

• The city to agree to abandon any future claim to the school district property on the north side of the fairgrounds;

• A sewer connection that would link the fair midway to the city main sewer line along the alley between the fair and school properties.

Still, fair officials said four of the 15 items were negotiable: the $100 per home charge, the construction of a manure holding area, the construction of a campground restroom and RV pump-out station, and a sewer line connection to the midway, according to a letter Ollis sent to commissioners.

E-mails and other documents released this week also shed new light on the early negotiations over the settlement.

Shelton steps in

County Commissioner Mike Shelton, who brokered the deal between the county, the fair

and the city, rejected several of the requests made by fair officials in early April.

In an e-mail sent to fair board members April 2, Shelton said he would talk to his fellow county commissioners about paying for the campground’s restroom, and said Langley would be asked to fund the pump-out station. (Langley later agreed to pay for the extension of the sewer line along Langley Road, because the city would eventually have to extend the sewer line south, anyway, but would not pay for a side connection to the pump-out station.)

Shelton also shot down the request to have the city step aside on the issue of the adjacent school property.

Last year, the South Whidbey School District launched an extensive review on the future use of its facilities, and there has been some talk about what may happen to Langley Middle School, its playfields and other land just north of the fairgrounds. Fair officials have been told by their long-range consultant, Norm Landerman-Moore, that the fair needs to grow in order to survive, and it must also operate on a year-round basis.

The fair board sent a letter to the school district in February 2006 that said the fair wants the school’s ballfield property if the school district ever considers selling the land.

Shelton, in his e-mail to the fair board, said he didn’t support including talk of the school district property in the settlement offer.

“I cannot support this item at all,” Shelton wrote.

“First of all, there is no intention I know of to sell the existing property on which the middle school sits. I happen to sit on the committee that the school has set up to study facilities and I don’t think the elimination of this site will be an outcome.

“If it is deemed to be excess property of the school district then that raises a number of issues around zoning, the county’s ability to purchase some [of] it, among other things,” Shelton continued. “It is just too remote of a possibility to ask Langley to now commit to something well into the future.”

Deal trimmed

According to the e-mail, Shelton also waved off the fair board on its request for a sewer line extension to the midway.

“The sewer connection for the midway will be a negotiation the county will have to have with the school district and really has nothing to do with Langley,” he wrote.

The sewer line extension was something fair board chairman Ollis once called the fair’s “most troublesome problem.” Food booths along the midway cannot expand without access to a sewer line.

Fair officials have also long wanted an RV pump-out station and restroom at the campgrounds on the fair. The fair board completed a plan for improving the campgrounds in March 2003 that included the dump station, which fair officials said would encourage trailer tourism on Whidbey.

Several issues raised in the draft settlement agreement will need additional work before they can be resolved.

An alternative for a manure retaining wall that was requested by the fair will have to be found, since the retaining wall will be made of rock, not concrete. Also, although the city has agreed to work with the county to develop a master plan for the fairgrounds, the Langley City Council must approve any changes that are made to the zoning of the fairgrounds.

Compromises made

Some of the early conditions requested by the fair board were addressed at the start, according to public documents obtained by The Record.

The fair’s request to limit future complaints of neighbors to the fair was resolved after the county planning department supplied similar rules that alert property owners of potentially conflicting land uses nearby on farmland or the Ebey’s Landing Historic Reserve.

A new chapter to Langley’s regulations was prepared, titled “Island County Fair Protection,” that would requiring warning people who owned property within 500 feet of the fair that they could be subject to the sounds and smell of livestock, plus dust, flies, fumes, outdoor concerts and other activities associated with the fair. Nearby land that is sold or transferred would also carry the warning.

The draft settlement offer was still undergoing revisions the day before it was announced publicly.

Shelton told Langley officials, in an April 17 e-mail, that the fair board wanted rumble devices placed on the eastbound lanes of the new road so drivers would know they were entering the fairgrounds.

Other additions included proper signage along the street, and a request to maintain access to the fairgrounds during road construction on the weekends because horse shows had been scheduled.

Late drama

In an April 17 e-mail to the city, Brandon, the fair administrator, listed 17 times throughout May, June, July and August when access would be needed.

Brandon also said access was needed for horse-riding groups that met every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night.

“Scheduling major construction around the busiest time of the year is not an option, in my opinion,” Brandon wrote. “The large horse trailers CANNOT come through the main gate and there is no other access route.”

While the city agreed to ask the developer of Fairgrounds Road to keep the south entrance to the fairgrounds accessible during the 17 times requested, the city bristled at the suggestion to expand the time frame for access to include Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Combined with the 17 times where access was needed — for events at the riding arena and the fair itself — that meant access through the construction area would have been needed for 98 days out of 123 days in May through August.

“From the schedule below (and subsequent phone conversation with Sandey [Brandon]), I understand that the request is also being made for access every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening,” City Administrator Walt Blackford wrote Shelton in an

e-mail late in the day on April 17.

Blackford warned the commissioner that he had spoken to Mayor Neil Colburn and the request could be a deal breaker.

“After talking to Neil, he wants to know if you realistically expect road construction to allow unlimited access in this way? If the county is going to provide an easement and then insist upon conditions that make it impossible to build the road, then we don’t have much of an agreement.”

“With this schedule...the road cannot be built until September,” Blackford continued. “Is this the only option? If so, then Neil has some problems with the agreement.”

The draft settlement released this week did not include a guarantee of access on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

City officials said earlier this week that the draft settlement was undergoing revisions based on the legal review conducted by county and city attorneys.

The draft agreement itself limits resolution of the 14 items listed to the county and the city; conditions to be met under the agreement do not require the involvement of the fair board.

For example, the county will request the road to be closed during large events, and not the fair board. Langley will also specifically work with the county on future zoning issues, and Langley will also wait for the county to request an extension of the main sewer line along Langley Road for the RV dump station.

It also appears that the draft settlement was first written to reflect an agreement between the city and the county; a place for the fair board chairman to sign was one of the last things added to the agreement, a day before it was announced, according to an April 17 e-mail from the commissioners’ office to the city.

Both sides in the dispute said Thursday they didn’t want to talk about the origins of the agreement, or particular parts of early negotiations.

Instead, city and fair officials said they were focused on the future.

“I think the fair board is very happy with the agreement in principle. We are looking forward to getting this behind us and moving forward,” Ollis said.

“The city’s optimistic that the agreement will be approved by the commissioners...within the next two weeks, and that the easement will be granted as soon as possible,” Blackford said.

Brian Kelly can be reached at 221-5300 or bkelly@southwhidbey

record.com.

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