WEAN challenges Camp Casey proposal

In an effort to change construction plans for the Camp Casey Conference Center, the Whidbey Environmental Action Network is threatening to appeal the rezoning of a planned expansion of the center.

Steve Erickson, representing the South Whidbey-based WEAN, wants Camp Casey owner Seattle Pacific University to move planned construction outside a forested area. He said his organization will appeal a decision by the Island County Board of Commissioners to allow the construction under a special review district. The appeal would be heard by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board in Olympia.

The expansion project calls for increasing the number of beds at the center from 670 to 1,030, building additional conference room space and providing additional parking and infrastructure.

According to a recently modified Casey Conference Center master plan, 14 acres of land is needed for growth. Of that, five acres fall within the forest and would be cleared.

"What bothers me the most is that most of this project could be placed outside of this forest," Erickson said Monday at a meeting of the county board of commissioners. "We don't think it's appropriate to lose anymore unlogged forests in the Puget Sound lowlands."

He said WEAN will file its appeal sometime before the end of the month.

WEAN contends clearing of trees would damage the remainder of the forest by allowing wind, erosion and increased foot traffic.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said SPU has been a good steward of the environment, and has spent a lot of money developing a master plan for the area.

Suzan Hizon, coordinator for planning and development for SPU, defended the plan this week. She said the university is going to continue working with its consultants to minimize environmental impacts.

"We're going to continue to move forward with the plan as approved by the Island County commissioners," Hizon said.

SPU developed a plan that called for Camp Casey to be rezoned from a rural designation to a special review district.

The zoning had to be changed because the conference center doesn't meet the requirements of its rural zoning, Shelton said.

Jeff Tate, assistant director of Island County Planning and Community Development, said the special review district establishes parameters that protect the character of the area.

"The special review district allows for uses that are typically hard to site in other zones." he said.

Tate noted that the Greenbank Farm is a special review district.

In addition to appealing the special review district, members of WEAN and other island residents visited a recent county commissioners meeting to voice their displeasure in the Camp Casey project.

Some were concerned that SPU's expansion at Camp Casey would go unchecked because of the new designation.

Although there wasn't time scheduled for public comment about the findings, the commissioners allowed two minutes for anyone wishing to comment.

After insulting the competency of the board, Erickson presented a paper that criticized the county's findings.

For example, at a December meeting where residents filled the meeting room to comment on the Camp Casey expansion, Erickson pointed out that anyone who wasn't a public official that spoke at that meeting opposed the project.

Shelton countered Erickson's complaint.

"It wasn't all negative and I think a lot of people changed their minds after they heard what SPU said."

Erickson was also critical of an existing-use clause in the county's comprehensive plan that allows for the expansion.

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