Ewing residents vow to fight development

Housing development vs. wetlands preservation. It’s a familiar story on South Whidbey, and one that got a new twist earlier this year as a Freeland company is making an effort to build a road through a wetland on its way to developing housing in the Maxwelton Valley.

Several Clinton residents and local organizations oppose the road plan, submitted by CRSTOL Whidbey Corporation to Island County this year. The corporation has applied for a permit to build a road measuring 1,300 feet long and 20 feet wide road along the west side of a wetland and buffer area off Ewing Road in Clinton. A road and a proposed 75-acre, 28-home development would be built in an area currently distinguished only by a grassy marsh surrounded with trees.

Since the area that the road would run through has been designated as a wetland buffer, the Growth Management Act would normally prevent its construction. However, because the land was purchased and platted into lots in 1914, it is immune to these restrictions, provided CRSTOL can find no other way of providing road access to the land it owns.

Kathy White, a spokesperson for CRSTOL said no options — such as acquiring right-of-way from neighboring property owners — are available, so the company has applied for a permit to build the road alongside the west edge of the wetland. Though this move might comply with the law, opponents of the development promise to fight the development, which would be within sight of South Whidbey’s largest salmon bearing stream, Maxwelton Creek.

“I don’t think that a clustered community surrounded by wetland is the way to go,” said Diane Stone, a nearby resident and project opponent.

Illegal work won’t stop project

The controversy over CRSTOL’s project began in December 2003.

According to county documents, CRSTOL tried to build an access road and parking area from Ewing Road to its acreage last December without a proper permit for the work. The corporation was initially fined $5,000, an amount later reduced to $1,500 when the company was required to submit cleanup and restoration plan.

Even though the fill has been removed and replanting has begun, opponents still question the need to put in a road that could damage the Maxwelton watershed, hurt wildlife habitat, create more traffic and pollution on the farm-field-lined Ewing Road. The opponents are also concerned about how much water the residents of the new development would use, and over what impact septic systems would have on the watershed..

CRSTOL’s Kathy White, who is the corporation’s agent for permit work, said CRSTOL ‘s three owners, are working on ways to preserve the wetland, not damage it. She said the partners — who she declined to name — are undertaking the project because they believe there is a need for new homes on Whidbey Island. At the same time, she said, the partners want to protect the environment in the process.

Work would be done in two stages, starting with the road. The houses would be built later. Plans for the development have been submitted to Island County as part of the pre-application process..

Should the housing development be permitted, White said the homes would be built on about 15 percent of the 75 acres. The remainder would be left as open space.

The original, 1914 plat, called Feek’s First Plat of Island Farm, is divided into 10-acre lots. CRSTOL is proposing to cluster homes on the plat, rather than place them on 10-acre lots.

Not an easy road to hoe

The road and the development face opposition, both from those who dislike the project and from development rules in Island County. Bill Poss, Island County’s development director, said CRSTOL needs to find a better place to build its road.

“They were advised to explore more thoroughly the possibility of an alternative property,” he said.

The county requires CRSTOL to find an alternative route for its road, one that would not infringe on the 100-foot buffer of the nearby wetland. The county will allow construction on the wetlands buffer only as a last resort, said Justin Craven, Island County’s critical areas planner. That option requires documented proof CRSTOL has exhausted all alternatives.

Craven said a the county must have a written letter of denial from property owners near the proposed road route stating they refuse to allow CRSTOL to build a road on their land.

CRSTOL’s White said the corporation expects to receive several pending letters of denial. But, until those letters are received by the county, CRSTOL cannot start building a road.

When it comes to building houses, CRSTOL may not be able to build as many as it has in its plans. Island County’s Poss said the rural-zoned acreage can normally be built at a maximum density of one house on every 5 acres. Since CRSTOL’s plan calls for building up to 28 homes on about 15 acres, approving it would require public hearings and an environmental assessment.

White said the high number of homes is preliminary. She said the homes were proposed for a site she said least threatens the wetland and its buffer zone. She said fewer homes may be built or located elsewhere on the acreage..

“They (CRSTOL) are not interested in ramming in something ugly,” she said. “They want a conscientious project.”

What’s wrong with project

The violation and the new effort to build a road have spurred to spur the letter-writing campaign from Clinton residents, Whidbey Environmental Action Network and Maxwelton Salmon Adventure.

It has led to several questions from area residents and the two organizations about why the development is happening.

Two of the most vocal critics have been Longwood Lane residents Diane and Greg Stone, who have written two letters to Island County opposing the road and proposed housing development. They are keeping detailed records of county documents pertaining to the project.

The Longwood community is located about a quarter mile away from where the new road is proposed.

“Once the land is destroyed or disturbed it’s hard to replace,” Greg Stone said.

They Stones said they support clustered communities in other areas because they preserve large tracts of land. But they don’t want a community built on wetlands.

The Maxwelton watershed is the only water source in the Maxwelton Valley, said another Longwood resident, Ruth Carlin. The proposed housing development could tax an already limited supply of water she said. She also worries about the sewage produced by a housing development.

“We have total limitations,” Carlin said. “It’s a balance that’s very, very fragile.”

The Stones’ letters and others protesting the project were sent to Poss, who has gauged the attitude of the public from the letters.

“Definitely in the public opinion court it’s an uphill battle,” Poss said. “I don’t think I’ve received any positive comments.”

Other negative impacts listed by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network in a letter include the damming effect a road through a wetland would have on wetland waters.

As for the unpermitted work done by CRSTOL in December, Greg Stone said tree clearing done in the area makes it susceptible to exotic weeds growth. CRSTOL’s White said any such weeds will be removed mechanically or treated with a biological agent that she claimed is not classed as an herbicide.

The county will monitor the restoration work for three years. \

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