Master Planned Resort

Over the hill and through the woods, to Fort Casey Conference Center we go.

The Island County Planning Commission voted Tuesday to change the Island County Code to allow Seattle Pacific University to pursue becoming a master planned resort.

That status will allow SPU to improve and expand the conference facility, which is south of Coupeville. Assistant Planning Director Jeff Tate said that the center is the only facility in the county that will be eligible for the program, which establishes a procedure for a public process to approve improvements or expansion to the facility.

Language in the proposed changes to the Island County Comprehensive Plan establish that in order for a facility to be a master planned resort, it must have met the state-established criteria before July 1, 1990, which is when the Growth Management Act was enacted.

“We tried to think about what other properties this will effect and we can’t think of any,” Tate said. “We wrote the ordinance with SPU in mind.”

For SPU, the change will allow it to continue with plans it has begun developing, said Rolfe Kellor, a planning consultant for the university. Kellor said that as a result of opposition to drastic plans to expand the center, the university has scaled back its plans for expansion.

“I think we’ll have more of an emphasis on sustainability,” Kellor said.

The university hired a consultant to map and mark every tree that is more than 18 inches in diameter in an effort to protect the wooded area, which is a federally protected land. SPU earlier ran into public opposition with plans to cut part of the forest.

Currently, Island County Code does not recognize Master Planned Resorts, which means that it would be difficult for SPU to add structures under current zoning laws. Once the code is changed and a master plan is approved, SPU will be able to add to the property on its own schedule.

“The plan we’re working on is significantly scaled down from earlier versions,” Kellor said. “We are pulling some of the development out of the forest area and focusing more on infill.”

Tate said that the county devoted so much time and resources because Camp Casey provides a valuable asset to Whidbey Island.

“We want SPU to stay and we want SPU to remain as land owners,” he said. “It’s an important and valuable use to Island County. We want to bring something forward that will benefit the community.”

According to the Island County Assessor’s database, SPU owns more than 22 acres with a value of more than $3.1 million.

Visitors to the property say they are happy with the facility. Shoreline resident Andrew Nichols, 16, said he has been camping at Casey ever since he could remember.

“It’s my favorite part of the summer,” he said, still huffing and puffing from a bicycle trek. “The only thing it’s missing is bike trails. I haven’t seen any bike trails here.”

In order for SPU to develop the property further, it must first submit a master plan. According to the proposed county code, the plan must show that the land is better suited, and has more long-term importance, for the existing resort than for the commercial harvesting of timber.

“This is the most intense land-use process the county has to offer,” Tate said.

For now, SPU has engaged in only preliminary planning processes, Kellor said. A funding source has not been formally recognized, however, Kellor said that funds are available.

“We want to develop a little more sense of a year-round community,” he said.

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