Proponents put brakes on Island County Fairgrounds proposal

Opponents of a $10.12 million, 10-year plan to change the Island County Fairgrounds got what they wanted: a slower, more public approach to saving the property.

After a final public presentation of the proposal, a hundred-plus page document outlining everything from the property’s history to its possible future of $3 million in revenue, members of a group opposed to the plan announced online that the proposal will not go before the county commissioners this month. Though one of the opposition’s more vocal members was not ready to call it a victory quite yet, noting that she agrees with the premise that something must change at the 12.8-acre fairgrounds in Langley.

“I’m thrilled that they’re taking a step back, but I’m not sure what is next,” said Wendy Sundquist in a telephone interview Friday morning.

Sundquist attended a Wednesday meeting in Oak Harbor and the two previous meetings on South Whidbey in February and March. She said the general consensus from the steering committee in Oak Harbor on Wednesday was that they were not going to take the proposal as it exists to the commissioners.

“I don’t know at this time what they’re going to do,” she said. “They felt like they couldn’t present it, and needed to get together as a steering committee and talk about what their next step is.”

“They have to do something,” she added.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who was on the steering committee and represents South and Central Whidbey, said the committee and the Economic Development Council are looking at public input on the proposal. She confirmed that no date is set for the commissioners to receive the proposal.

“When they’re ready to move forward we’ll set a date,” she said in a voice message left Friday morning. “We’ve been listening and taking into account all of the suggestions that have been received.”

Originally, the proposal was to be presented at two public meetings, one on South Whidbey and one in Oak Harbor, then taken before the county commissioners in late March. But public outcry from South Whidbey and Central Whidbey residents was such that a second meeting was deemed necessary, delaying the Oak Harbor presentation.

On Wednesday, North Whidbey had its chance to hear steering committee members pitch the proposal that would tear down 15 buildings, leaving a dozen structures intact and relocated. Many of the existing small animal barns and the antique barn were slated for demolition in the first of four phases. Sundquist said about 30 people showed up, less than half of the attendance at the last Langley meeting. She blamed poor solicitation and announcement of the meeting, but also acknowledged that the North End may not be as engaged in the fairgrounds as Central and South Whidbey.

The major question of how to save the fair by separating its management group, the Whidbey Island Fair Association, from taking care of the county property remained unanswered and a priority for the steering committee.

One positive that Sundquist said came out of the outcry was the momentum to look at ways to improve the property.

“There is a lot of momentum,” she said. “A lot of people are interested.”

She and several members of the Friends of the Fair group that formed to oppose the plan now plan to join the fair association that oversees the four-day showcase and the property until another solution is found.

“That’s the way we can help, at this point,” she said.


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