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Gas station drawings fuel more opposition

"Members of a group opposed to a proposed Exxon gas station complex in Freeland got their first gander at how the project will look during a public hearing Monday afternoon in Coupeville. But new, colorful architectural drawings of the site only served to heighten their disapproval.This is worse than I was expecting, said DeAnn Olson, a member of People for Responsible, Organized Urban Development, or PROUD, the group fighting the project. Olson lives just off Fish Road on a hillside overlooking the proposed construction site - a site which could someday be home to 10 fuel pumps, a convenience store, an oil change facility, a car wash and a 6,000-square-foot retail building. Among other things, she worries that such a facility will create more noise, traffic, litter and damage to the environment if allowed to proceed.Olson was one of more than 80 people attending the Monday hearing before Island County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink. It was the second in what will be at least three such hearings on the proposal. Attorneys for both sides used the proceedings to call witnesses and present evidence. Bobbink's job is to determine whether the project should go ahead as planned or whether the proposed site should be considered a wetland. Such a designation would preclude development.The project, located south of the highway at the corner of Fish Road, is proposed by A-OOK development group of Freeland. Though county regulations no longer allow commercial development south of the highway in Freeland, the A-OOK application became vested prior to the change in the law.But Monday, PROUD members and others attacked the developer's assertion that the property is not a wetland. Freeland resident Mary Jane Donohoe said her father, Warren Burrier, raised and harvested hay on the site for many years. She said he always waited until late in the summer to harvest because the field was so wet. She also related that her father once got his hay baler stuck in the soggy ground.Steve Erickson, a member of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, argued that he had personally seen many examples of wetland vegetation on the site. Erickson also presented infrared aerial photographs showing what he said was vibrant plant growth during late summer - a sign of plentiful water near the surface.PROUD supporter Herb Hunt testified that when he was a kid the property had enough standing water on it to go ice skating during the winter. Hunt and PROUD president Jerry Hill also complained that the project is outside the area currently being studied for development by the county-sanctioned Freeland Sub-area Planning Committee.This project flies in the face of our ability to plan ... by starting to spread us out onto the highway, Hill said.But speaking in defense of A-OOK, Greenbank resident Terry Lehman said he never remembered the property being used for ice skating and that prior to the nearby installation of a poorly designed culvert in 1983, the land had no standing water except for a short period following rains and that it drained fine. After 1983 the property flooded regularly but that problem has since been fixed, Lehman said.Some of the biggest reaction of the day occurred when architect Carl Pirscher of CDA Architects of Seattle displayed his drawings of the proposed complex. Pirscher said the convenience store space would occupy 3,142 square feet, the car wash/oil change facility would be 2,852 square feet and the retail space would take up 6,000 square feet. His drawings showed buildings no more than 27 feet in height with wood siding and gabled, pitched roofs. And we have exceeded the county standards on landscaping, he said, pointing to the trees and vegetation that buffer the complex from the nearby roads.But attorney David Bricklin, representing PROUD, questioned the unobtrusive look of Pirscher's drawings.You'd never know this was a gas station the way you've designed it, Bricklin said, noting that the buildings contained only a small reference to signs or other advertising people usually see at similar businesses. He asked if Pirscher thought the Exxon Corporation was going to approve such an anonymous design and questioned the way the drawing made it seem as if the entire complex would be shielded from passing motorists by landscaping. Bricklin wondered out loud if the businesses in the complex were really expecting to be invisible from the road.It would not completely shield it, Pirscher responded.Bricklin also pointed out that the plans called for a 16-foot-tall, lighted sign out near the highway drawing attention to the site and he took exception to the large-scale landscaping pictured in the drawings.Are you going to bring in big trees? he asked. Pirscher said most of the trees would be only about five feet or so in height and about an inch or two around when planted but would eventually grow into a nice buffer.In what came as a surprise to many in the audience, Bricklin noted that the convenience store shown in the drawings had a drive-thru area. He asked if that meant there was also a restaurant in the store. Pirscher said it would not be a sit-down style restaurant but that many such stores now feature food to go.So then it's a fast food restaurant under the name of a convenience store? Bricklin asked rhetorically.Olson said the drive-thru feature was an element of the project she had not heard about before. She also was distressed to see that the only entrance and exit to the complex would be along the residential Fish Road rather than the highway and that the businesses were not oriented to face away from the residential area.The hearing was continued until Thursday, Dec. 7 at 11 a.m. in the Commissioners Hearing Room of the Courthouse Annex in Coupeville. "

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