Developer appealing Hearings Board decision

The developer Wright’s Crossing, LLC filed a motion to reconsider Thursday after the Growth Management Hearings Board dismissed its appeal.

In December, Wright’s Crossing submitted a petition for review that challenged the Island County Board of Commissioners’ decision to exclude from the planning docket its application for a large-scale development south of Oak Harbor. The petition said the commissioners were “illegally stalling” the project. Last week the hearings board dismissed the appeal.

“I wasn’t surprised about this outcome because we put a lot of thought into our decision as a board,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Dennis Reynolds, who represents the developer, said the county had an obligation to docket the application. The motion for reconsideration states that countywide planning policies require docketing and consideration of purposed plan amendments when there are changed circumstances.

“For the Board to allow the County to willingly ignore the housing crisis that exists and delay compliance with mandatory GMA requirements until the next required comprehensive plan update, is fundamentally flawed both as a matter of fact and law,” the motion states

The hearings board’s dismissal said there are no planning policies that would mandate the docketing of the application. It also states the county did not take the decision to exclude the application lightly.

“It wasn’t just a knee-jerk ‘no,’” Johnson said in an interview. “We considered it, and it wasn’t the right time for that kind of work to be done.”

The proposal asked that the city’s urban growth area (UGA) be expanded to include the land slated for development, one step in the regulatory minefield the developer faced before its vision could become a reality.

The UGA expansion would require conducting another buildable lands analysis to determine there wasn’t enough capacity within city limits to accommodate projected growth.

The state will be releasing new criteria for performing buildable lands analyses next year, Johnson said, and this informed the commissioners’ decision to hold off on docketing the application. The previous buildable lands analysis, completed in 2016, found there was enough vacant property within Oak Harbor’s UGA to allow for 20 years worth of growth.

“We hope the city of Oak Harbor will now seriously address the questions of how come all their undeveloped land is not being used for affordable housing, if that’s the real issue,” said Steve Erickson of the Whidbey Island Environmental Action Network, which intervened in the appeal on behalf of Island County.

Reynolds said if the motion is denied, Wright’s Crossing will file an appeal in Thurston County Superior Court. The developer has also filed a writ of review in Skagit County Superior Court, which is still pending.

“I guess the part that disturbs me is that they’re continuing on this legal path to kind of bully their way in, when it’s taking time and resources from different things we’re trying to do in our community,” Johnson said.

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