University asks Casey Center zoning change

Seattle Pacific University is taking one step backward in its plans to expand the Casey Conference Center on Central Whidbey.

Last week, the university asked Island County to repeal a special review district created for the proposed conference center and return the property to its original rural zoning designation.

Assistant Planning Director Jeff Tate said repealing the review district should bring the property into compliance with the Growth Management Act.

The review district was shot down by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board last August. The board gave the county six months to bring the property into GMA compliance.

Darrell Hines, associate vice president for business and facility services at SPU, said repealing the ordinance was the best way to meet the deadline and still develop an acceptable expansion plan.

“We are looking at options,” Hines said.

SPU wants to expand the Casey Conference Center to attract a more adult clientele and generate more revenue. With the special review district zoning, the university planned to add six buildings, a chapel, 50 cabins, 240 parking spaces, a small sewage treatment plant and water facilities to the current camp.

However, Whidbey Environmental Action Network appealed to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The Langley-based organization was concerned the expansion would damage the surrounding environment.

Specifically, WEAN opposed the university’s plans to expand into a nearby wooded area, a move the group’s spokespersons — Steve Erickson and Marianne Edain — would make the trees more susceptible to being blown down by a strong wind.

Hines didn’t know when the university would develop a new plan, but said the university will still try to expand the center and bring in more money. If the property can’t bring in more revenue, SPU may have to look at selling.

Before repealing the zoning, the Board of Island County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Feb. 23 during its weekly meeting.

One reason expansion plans have been put on the back burner is that SPU is trying to sell a 33-acre parcel known as the Bocker Reserve. The property, located north of the Casey Conference Center, is currently divided into five lots. All of the lots have a waterfront view. Selling those lots, according to SPU officials, would go toward paying for the Camp Casey expansion.

One local group, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, is trying to buy the property and preserve it. The area is home to the golden paintbrush, a plant known to grow in only 11 locations in the world.

Pat Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, said that she is still negotiating with SPU. Although she wouldn’t give any specifics on the how much money is involved, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust recently received a $1.5 million grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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