Port of Coupeville questions whether Greenbank Farm zoning is legal

Approximately ten years after the decision was made, leaders of the Port of Coupeville are wondering if the zoning placed on the Greenbank Farm was an error.

Officials sent information to the Washington State Auditor’s Office to examine whether the port erred in 2002 by agreeing to zone the farm as a Special Review District because the port lost development rights to the farm it acquired in 1997.

Marshall Bronson, president of the board of commissioners for the Port of Coupeville, submitted the letter to the auditor Feb. 28. The thinking behind the concern stems from work currently under way with Island County to place a conservation easement on the Greenbank Farm. Progress on that extra layer of protection from development appears to have come to a standstill.

While researching the conservation easement, port leaders learned they should receive compensation for any development rights they may have given up. During recent conversations, questions arose whether the port should have been compensated for the limits outlined by the Special Review District.

“It was in the midst of discussions about compensation that the question arose as to whether the port might have erred in seeking and agreeing to a Special Review District zoning in 2002 because no compensation for the development right thus surrendered was requested from or offered by Island County Government,” Bronson said in a letter submitted to the state auditor’s office Feb. 28.

A Special Review District is a zoning designation with special rules that can be applied to properties in the county that don’t easily fit into other classifications.  Currently the former Au Sable Institute near Coupeville and the Greenbank Farm are the only properties in Island County carrying the Special Review District designation.

Bob Peterson, director of planning and community development for Island County, seemed surprise that the port would question a decision it helped make so many years ago.

“It seems rather odd to me that question was made many years later,” Pederson said Thursday, recalling that the Port of Coupeville advocated and participated in the process that approved the Special Review District zoning.

He said he wasn’t sure what the state auditor’s office could do concerning the review district zoning. It isn’t an entity tasked with reviewing land use decisions and he wasn’t sure what recourse the port would have to rescind the decision because so much time had passed since the 2002 zoning was approved.

The Port of Coupeville has been trying for more than a year to get a conservation easement placed on the Greenbank Farm. Such an easement would add another layer of protection to prevent the agricultural and environmentally sensitive land on the 151 acres the port owns from being developed. A portion of commercially zoned land could be used for construction.

The Island County commissioners last year awarded the Port of Coupeville money from the Conservation Futures Fund to pay for the easement. The amount of the award will be based on an appraisal, which has yet to be completed. Negotiations on the easement seem to have ground to a halt as well.

Since the Port of Coupeville acquired the Greenbank Farm in 1997, the port has slowly been drained of its assets as it pays the $100,000-a-year mortgage on the farm. Earlier in 2012, officials slashed staff hours to ensure it had operating money available until the first round of levy disbursement that takes place in the spring.

Recently elected Port Commissioner Laura Blankenship questioned whether Bronson had the authority to get the state auditor’s office involved. When the commissioners met last month, they wanted to get the county attorney’s opinion about the review district.

“A different course of action was taken and I have a problem with that,” Blankenship said.

Bronson said a lot of options were discussed in February and contacting the state auditor was one of them.

Patton said he received confirmation from the auditor’s office that they have the information the Port submitted.


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