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EDC postpones Exxon center endorsement

"Prepared two weeks ago to weigh in on the side of three developers intent on building an Exxon station in Freeland, the membership of Island County Economic Development Council decided Tuesday to put any future endorsement of the project to a vote of its entire board of directors.Assailed by opponents of the project -- some of whom are themselves EDC board members -- eight board members attending the EDC's quarterly meeting at Greenbank's Race Road fire station agreed that a letter drafted by the organization's executive committee backing the project should not be sent to Island County and other interested parties without board approval. Drafted earlier this month at the request of developers Gordon Koetje, Mick Olsen, and Terry Otey, the letter was written to affirm that the trio had applied with the Island County Planning Department to develop in an acceptable manner in an appropriate zone. The letter has yet to be mailed, said EDC director Tom Shaunessy, because the developers asked that it not be released until after they file a revised development application with the county.Shaunessy said the letter of support is something the EDC would do for any business. After reviewing the county's comprehensive plan and zoning, Shaunessy said the executive committee decided that the proposed Exxon station and retail center was an appropriate fit for where developers want to build it.It is in line with the comprehensive plan, he said.But Jerry Hill, an opponent of the project and a member of People for Reasonable, Organized Urban Development (PROUD), argued that the project could force other Freeland gas and service stations out of business. He said the EDC, which is in part dedicated to preserving existing local businesses, should see that the gas station, quick lube, car wash, and retail space planned by Otey, Olsen, and Koetje could cripple a portion of Freeland's core business district.EDC board member Stan Stanley questioned Hill's motives.Do you really believe you should provide protection from competition for local businesses? Stanley asked.As it stands, the development project is vested with the Island County planning department. However, the developers recently chose to withdraw their development application and work on a resubmittal due to inconsistencies found in their original application. That resubmittal must be turned into the planning department by the end of this month because after June 30, the property sited for the project will no longer be zoned for commercial development. The Island County Board of Commissioners changed the zoning earlier this year when ordered to to so by the state's Growth Management Hearings Board. But in doing this, the commissioners allowed several months of grace period for developers to get projects vested on land in danger of losing commercial zoning.Freeland resident Charlie Stromberg said the EDC should not aid the developers as they try to slip in under the deadline.It's really a good ol' boy loophole that's being used and you are trying to keep it greased, Stromberg said.John Graham, an EDC board member, introduced a motion to support planning efforts by the Freeland sub-area planning committee. In doing so, he said the EDC would show that it supports the desires of Freeland residents and not individual developers.Right now I want to make damn sure the people of Freeland are in charge of this, not the EDC, Graham said. His motion and an amendment to the motion failed on respective 5-2 and 4-2 votes."

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