Injunction filed over LIHI housing project in Freeland

A newly formed limited liability company filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Island County and a nonprofit organization just three days after county commissioners voted to provide matching funds for a low-income housing project in Freeland.

Freeland Concerned Citizens LLC filed the complaint in Island County Superior Court July 15 against the county, the board of county commissioners, the Low Income Housing Institute, LIHI Harbor Inn LLC, Lucky Bones LLC and the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Commissioners Melanie Bacon and Janet St. Clair, who cast the deciding votes, were also named individually as defendants.

Following a lengthy public hearing last Tuesday, the commissioners voted 2-1 to provide LIHI with $1.5 million in record filing fees to purchase Freeland’s Harbor Inn and convert it into a combination of bridge and supportive housing. LIHI already had a grant from the state.

The majority of the people who spoke at the hearing were opposed to the project, complaining that it would bring crime and other problems into Freeland and that the loss of a motel would have economic consequences. Many people asked the commissioners to delay a decision.

The complaint, written by Bellevue attorney Randal Thiel, contains a notice of appeal and requests a preliminary injunction, cancellation of the contract and a declaratory judgment action.

The complaint alleges that the proposed project is in violation of county code and that the commissioners violated the state Open Public Meetings Act through a lack of transparency and denied residents “any reasonable notice and voice in the matter.”

“Over the past year through July 12, 2022, defendants engaged in secret discussions, negotiated contracts, misled and hid agenda items from Island County citizens,” the complaint states.

Thiel wrote that the commissioners “deceptively omitted and/or avoided regular and work public session to discuss the prearranged deal with LIHI.”

The court filing, however, doesn’t offer many specifics about the alleged back-door discussions and deals.

In fact, the commissioners did discuss the proposal during public meetings in October 2021 and in May, June and July of this year. The South Whidbey Record and Whidbey News-Times covered these discussions in stories that had tens of thousands of views online.

Details about Freeland Concerned Citizens LLC are unclear. A spokesperson from the state Secretary of State reports that neither that office nor the state Department of Revenue have any record of the LLC.