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Camp Casey appeal heads to regional hearings board

Deliberations on the future of the Camp Casey Conference Center at Fort Casey State Park are under way this week before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

That board was to hear preliminary motions Tuesday about an appeal filed by a Whidbey environmental watchdog group.

Officials from the Whidbey Environmental Action Network argue that Seattle Pacific University's plans to expand the Casey Conference Center constitute urban growth and is also a master-planned resort, said Steve Erickson, litigation coordinator for WEAN.

Master-planned resorts are prohibited in Island County. Tim Martin, a Langley-based attorney representing SPU, said the center's focus on retreats, conference space and education facilities doesn't fit the definition of a destination resort.

Martin stressed that the center's classification as a special review district doesn't circumvent any of the county's permitting process.

"All that's taking place is a rezone," Martin said, adding that SPU has to go through the same processes as any other development.

SPU plans to expand the number of beds at the center from 670 to 1,030, build additional conference space and provide additional parking and infrastructure. Officials have previously said the expansion is necessary to make the center more appealing to adult groups and to generate more revenue.

Island County approved rezoning the conference center to a special review district in which SPU has to develop a master plan outlining its intentions for the land. Plans for development would be prohibited if the land remained in its rural designation.

WEAN leaders have said development threatens the surrounding woods. SPU officials contend the woods are a major feature of the center and they contend they can build in that area while preserving the woods.

In addition to the issues concerning the development, Arne Denny, Island County deputy prosecutor, planned to present two motions, one changing the process in which a group makes an appeal and another questioning the standing of WEAN to appeal issues covered under the state Environmental Protection Act.

With the process issue, Denny is arguing that appeals such as WEAN's should be appealed first to the county and then to the hearings board. He said groups such as the Central Puget Sound Hearings Board use a similar process.

On the issue of standing, or WEAN's legal right to intervene in the case, Denny argues that WEAN doesn't meet the criteria to appeal the determination of non-significance.

A decision from the hearings board isn't expected until May 21.

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