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University proposes expansion of Camp Casey

Central Whidbey's Camp Casey will undergo considerable renovation and expansion if Island County approves a master plan for the site.

Seattle Pacific University, owner of Camp Casey, submitted the plan in late January, and it is now being reviewed by the Island County Planning Department.

The Camp Casey Conference Center annually hosts a variety of retreats, for such activities as outdoor education, Scouting, church meetings and sports camps. Built by the Army in the early 1900s, it has been used in the past to protect shipping in Admiralty Inlet and as a training center during World War II for engineers and amphibious landings.

As a conference center, into which it evolved after the college purchased the fort in 1956, the facility can offer overnight accommodations for approximately 535 people. If the master plan is approved, full occupancy is projected at 825 people.

To house these extra people, several construction projects are planned, including:

  • Retreat housing and cabins, increasing the number of beds from 670 to 1,030.

  • More conference meeting rooms, including an 8,000-square-foot building accommodating 275 people.

  • More parking and other infrastructure improvements.

    To help finance development, the college hopes to sell several parcels of property at the northern boundary of the camp.

    Camp Casey's 330 acres are situated between Fort Casey State Park and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, on Central Whidbey's west side.

    Susan Hizon, coordinator of planning and development for the camp, said the master plan was the product of a decade of planning and review. The college even considered selling the property, she said, and came close to making a deal with Washington State Parks. But that fell through, and many people associated with the college decided they wanted to keep the camp.

    "It's quite a treasure," Hizon said last week. "But how do we make it financially viable?"

    The college answered that question by deciding to increase business. Camp Casey receives no funding from SPU, Hizon said, and does not contribute any money to the college. It operates on a self-sustaining basis.

    Hizon said the cost of maintaining existing structures, many dating back to early last century, is too high to continue with existing revenues. So a plan was drawn up that aims to attract more people to the facility without offending Coupeville area residents, who jealously guard their environment from untoward development.

    "We're dealing with a community that's very concerned about the types of uses allowed," Hizon said.

    To that end, SPU developed a plan it believes will:

  • Protect current land and structures that have historical and environmental significance.

  • Provide updated educational and recreational facilities that will increase revenue and allow Casey to operate on a financially sound basis.

  • Embrace environmental and property goals as outlined by the Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve and the Island County Comprehensive Plan.

    Hizon said the college plans to sell about 30 acres of its northernmost property. Ideally, it would be added to Ebey's Reserve, if money can be found to purchase the property. She said Ebey's Reserve officials have been told that the land is available.

    Development would take place through a "special review district," if the county approves. That district includes Crockett Lake, but no development is planned there aside from as small gazebo-type information center for bird watchers.

    Hizon said the special review district would establish "unique standards to protect lands and structures like those at Casey," while allowing "continuation and expansion of the educational, recreational and conferencing activity."

    The master plan proposal will be considered by the Island County Planning Commission, which will hold public hearings. Hizon expects those hearing to occur in June or July.

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