Development across from Albertsons stalled
July 3, 2008 · Updated 5:12 PM
"Whether or not Oak Harbor gets a Staples store, another pharmacy and a new road will likely depend on the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Transportation.And getting decisions from those agencies may take some time.First Western Development, the company that brought Wal-Mart to Oak Harbor, submitted a preliminary site plan to the city early this year for two retail stores next to the new Whidbey Island Bank building going up on Highway 20 across from Albertsons. Under the plan, a 24,000-square-foot Staples - a retail office supply chain - would go in next to a 13,000-square-foot building that is simply labeled as a pharmacy/drug store.But the developer has had some snags in getting the project started.First, City Planner Tom Burdett said First Western has appealed to the Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over Highway 20, regarding issues of access and turn lanes off the highway. First Western wants a left turn into the development, but the DOT may not allow it. The problem is that the stretch of Highway 20 between SE Eighth and Barlow Street has been named a high accident corridor and the state is looking at different ways to channel traffic in the area. However, Burdett said no decisions have been made yet. Recently, City Engineer Ryan Goodman said Scott Shanks of First Western has promised to build an access road behind the development, which would run behind Burger King and the 7-11, then link up with Beeksma Drive behind the car wash. The city has planned for the road, which will be named SW Bayshore Drive, as a way to get some traffic off the busy highway while providing access to the businesses. Under city rules, Goodman said developers are really only responsible for building a road on the frontage of the project. Whidbey Island Bank, for example, is building the new road only on land directly adjacent to the project.The hitch with the Staples project, Goodman said, is that the new road would run across a wetland located behind the car wash. In order to do that, he said the developer needs to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Yet the Corps has a backlog of 1,200 permits, Burdett said, and the average time it takes to get a permit is a year to a year and a half.Burdett said First Western has even offered to bond for completion of Bayshore. That would allow them to build the development now and complete the road if and when the permit goes through.The problem with that, Burdett said, is that the city would be out of luck if the Corps rejects the permit application.So for now, Burdett said the Freund family - who owns the land - has applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for the permit. The city sent a separate letter to the Corps in support of the road and asking them to hurry the process.If the permit is approved, the property owners will likely have to mitigate the wetland that is destroyed by creating an equal-sized wetland elsewhere.In the meantime, traffic will continue to be a concern for both drivers and the businesses along the stretch of highway between Beeksma and Swantown. Goodman said widening the highway is in the city's six-year transportation plan, but it would require agreement from the Department of Transportation. Barbara Biggs, a traffic engineer with the DOT, said the department has named that area of the highway as a 2000 high accident location. She said a access management expert is looking at the area to see if channeling traffic in a different way - such as raised traffic curbing or restricting turns - could help the traffic flow.She admits that some business owners in the area may not be happy with the solutions.It might restrict access in certain driveways, she said, which would make it more difficult for customers to reach the businesses. "