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Hearing coming for removing moratorium on Dogwood property
The owner of forest land north of Freeland is moving ahead with plans for five housing projects on a portion of the property.
Dogwood Whidbey Development has applied to Island County for permits to establish planned residential developments, or PRDs, on 234 of its 800 acres, and to lift a moratorium to allow clearing and grading on the sites.
The county hearing examiner has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, in the commissioners’ room of the Island County Courthouse Annex in Coupeville. This is the first hearing in a two-step process, said Andrew Hicks, associate county planner.
The property is west of Highway 525 about a mile north of Mutiny Bay Road. Dogwood Whidbey was created by Jesse Molnick and is managed by The Molnick Group, a development, investment and brokerage firm based in Arlington.
The group has developed 14 projects throughout the Puget Sound region since 2004, all of them with a green emphasis, Molnick told The Record in an earlier interview.
“If I find a good project that I think can add value and still make a nice community, then we’ll do it,” he said then.
In its current request, the developer has promised “three-star green” construction of clustered housing on three 50-acre parcels of 10 building lots each.
Also proposed is a 12-lot PRD on about 60 acres, and a five-lot PRD on about 24 acres.
The parcels are contiguous, and each would have 85 percent open space, 15 percent of which can be community common areas, according to the application.
The hearing examiner also will consider the developer’s request to lift the moratorium on clearing and grading on the parcels.
The moratorium expires in September 2010. It was a condition of a non-conversion permit issued to the previous owner of the property in September 2004.
A non-conversion permit means selective logging can take place on the property, but there can be no other development for six years so new trees can grow.
Dogwood Whidbey is seeking a conversion permit for the parcels in question, which would allow the clearing and grading of sites and connective roadways. The granting of a conversion permit automatically cancels the moratorium, Hicks said.
In staff reports to the hearing examiner, county planners recommend approval of permits for the PRDs and the clearing and grading, subject to conditions relating to land-use regulations that the developer would be required to meet.
Those conditions must be satisfied prior to submitting a final PRD application, Hicks said.
Dogwood Whidbey also would have to survey the property and create a final map for each PRD application, he added.
Through a succession of owners, plans for the property have encountered a few bumps in the road.
The forested area has been used for more than 30 years by people in the area and other islanders as a natural locale in which to hike, ride horses and generally enjoy the outdoors.
Molnick told The Record last spring that he’s not opposed to weaving the existing horse trails into his plans for the property, if it could be worked out.
Hicks pointed out that the property in question is privately owned.
“I’m not sure if the community should feel entitled to that land,” he said. “It’s not public property. If the owners choose to honor horse trails in the future, that’s great.”
There’s also the question of water. When Freeland was considering incorporation, Dogwood Whidbey approached the Freeland Water and Sewer District, saying that connecting to an existing system would create less strain on the environment than would digging separate wells.
There was some opposition to the idea, principally by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, which protested that creating an urban infrastructure such as a water system in the rural area would only be an inducement to additional development.
Water district commissioners shelved Dogwood Whidbey’s request. They wanted more information, because the property isn’t contiguous to the district. Since then, the proposal to make Freeland a city has stalled because of the projected high cost of a sewer system.
While county planners generally favor the water district as being perhaps the most logical source for the development, Hicks said Dogwood Whidbey would have other options available, including individual wells or the creation of its own water system.
Hicks said that while the developers must show they have access to water, the specific source need not be nailed down at this stage of the permit process.
Molnick said earlier that if the permits are granted, it would take a year to get started on the project, and five years before houses are built.
Hicks said the hearing examiner will have two weeks after the hearing to issue a decision.