June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:41 PM
"PROUD came together out of a common commitment. People for Responsible, Organized Urban Development (PROUD) believe that Freeland (and Clinton) can be developed into attractive towns that the South Whidbey community can enjoy and have pride in far into the future. The Exxon project, particularly the location, the wetland site conditions, and the timing with regard to Freeland Area Planning, was clearly not responsible development, so we appealed.We spent thousands of hours researching evidence. We brought in a nationally recognized wetland expert, Dr. Sarah Cooke. We pointed out that a gas station is not a permitted or conditional use for a rural center zoning. We brought in an independent, professional traffic consultant to analyze the traffic impacts. We incurred thousands in legal expenses, bringing in highly regarded land use attorney, David Bricklin. Over 1,000 citizens participated either through petition, written comments, attending or even testifying at the hearings. The substantial and credible evidence we presented was acknowledged by the Hearing Examiner and yet dismissed as he chose to believe that the site was not a wetland, found the traffic mitigation sufficient, and denied PROUD standing in the case. Standing refers to proving harm as a result of the project's approval. The harm caused to the appellants, if any, is the same harm caused to all citizens. A general harm of this nature does not give rise to standing. (Page 24 of the Hearing Examiner's Decision.) Given the depth and breadth of community reaction to this project, collective harm was definitely inflicted. Is collective harm legally insignificant? Are direct monetary loss or physical damage the only valid reasons for filing an appeal? If so, community standards and desires have been designated irrelevant.It has become obvious through this process that considerably more community involvement in the planning process is needed so that community standards and desires are considered significant and relevant. The South Whidbey Record has editorialized that planning is best done at the local level, which is also where the authority should lie. We agree. In discussing an appeal with our lawyer, we concluded that our efforts and resources are best spent, not in appealing, but in facilitating a broad based community effort to see that community desires are significantly implemented.What is special about our community is that we care about each other. We know each other, we volunteer and donate generously to a wide range of needs and activities. We can make planning decisions to build on these strengths by developing communities where we can come together, sharing our daily lives, or we can end up isolated by cookie-cutter, franchise developments which make little or not long-term contribution to the economic health or the appearance of a community.In order for Freeland to mold an economic base with vitality, it needs to encourage businesses that are committed and connected to the Island community, provide employment for skilled workers (not dead-end minimum wage jobs), and preserve the quality of life enjoyed by Island residents. As the mainland becomes increasingly covered with buildings and pavement, Whidbey Island becomes an increasingly valuable reservoir of natural areas and wildlife. These natural area resources will increase in value, and wise planning will recognize the merit of those resources, with no community planning they will be squandered.PROUD invites all community members to get involved. In particular, get involved with your local planning process with the intention of taking local control. We are meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church's Community Room to plan how we islanders can come together to sustain our wonderful community in the face of growth.To view the Hearing Examiner's decision, PROUD's arguments and A-OOK's arguments, stop by the reference desk at the Freeland Library, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 30. Jerry Hill is a member of the PROUD Board, which also includes Vernon Brisley, Isabella Garretson, Linda Rhodes, Alethea Shinneman and John Shinneman. "