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Three battle for town council race

With a controversial proposal to allow new buildings constructed over the water on Front Street, growth in Coupeville is a contentious issues with town council candidates running in the August primary election.

Three candidates are vying for a spot on the Town Council. Incumbent Bob Clay is facing physical therapist Gary Piazzon and bed and breakfast owner Sue Cunningham.

The shoreline controversy stems from two places. The town received an application to build a restaurant next to Toby's, and heated discussions about the town's yet-to-be approved shoreline management plan update that would allow new buildings to be constructed over the water in downtown Coupeville.

The proposal sparked a considerable amount of criticism. Critics argue against allowing construction of such buildings, claiming a non-water-dependent use such as a restaurant violates the state Shoreline Management Act.

Council member Bob Clay, who is finishing his second term on the council, said the town is close to approving a plan to forward to the state Department of Ecology for its consideration.

"It makes no sense to submit a plan to the Department of Ecology only to see it turned down," Clay said.

When asked if he supports construction over the water on historic Front Street, Clay said he would not take away a property owner's rights but would follow state requirements. The state seems to favor only "water dependent" uses in such cases, not "water enjoyment" as the proposed restaurant is labeled.

Piazzon said over-water development undercuts the state's shoreline plan. He added that issue is the only major hangup with the town's plan from moving forward.

"That's the one thing that is stalling the process," Piazzon said. He said the proposal is the town's attempt to weasel a way around Ecology's requirements.

"We've been paying a town planner to find a loophole in the Shoreline Management Plan to allow over-water development," Piazzon said, adding that even the "gaps" between the buildings on the north side of historic Front Street are "historical gaps" that deserve protection.

Cunningham said that it should be up to the land owner to work with the state to build over the water rather than the town making that decision.

"I don't think the town council should be involved in deciding that," Cunningham said, suggesting that state rules would prevent a new building over the water in Coupeville.

Clay said the town will have some challenges to overcome in the future to make sure growth is met in a responsible way. He also highlighted several projects the town is working on, including the expansion of the water system. He said that, with the upgrades to the sewage plant and installation of a new well, the town has to work on repairing the rest of the infrastructure.

He said the town is in good shape financially and that will make it easier to fund future improvements.

"When we go to improve our infrastructure, we are able to fund that," said Clay.

Piazzon, who works as a physical therapist at Whidbey General Hospital, decided to run because he is concerned about the health of the region.

"I've seen the town gradually change in ways that concern me," Piazzon said, explaining that historic features have eroded, and he would be a champion of implementing low impact development policies.

Piazzon is a member of the Whidbey Audubon Society board and is the president of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. He said he would resign as board president if elected.

Piazzon, who has lived on Whidbey Island since 1991, said he would provide a background that is different from the other members of the council. He has a health care background while most of the other town council members have a business background.

Cunningham, who grew up in Seattle, has been busy since moving to Coupeville in late 2005. As the owner of the Blue Goose Inn, she has joined the chamber of commerce, the lodging association and the waterfront association. This marks the first time that she is running for public office.

If elected, she said she would work to improve communication in Coupeville. She said she has the feeling that town staff don't really hear people's opinions.

Cunningham is a flight operations manager for American Airlines in addition to owning the Blue Goose. She wants to make sure the town plans well enough for growth. "It's a real town," she said. "It's got so much going for it."

Cunningham is heavily invested in the community. She recently expanded her bed and breakfast by purchasing two additional historic buildings on Main Street.

While the town's shoreline plan stirred up some controversy, Mayor Nancy Conard's role in town administration looks to be another contentious issue.

Conard serves as both mayor and town administrator, drawing a full-time salary for her efforts. Some residents have criticized the arrangement, saying that it reduces the system of checks and balances.

Clay said he supports having Conard serving both positions and that she is more than qualified for the job.

"I think the town of Coupeville is getting a bargain," Clay said. He added that it would cost the town a lot more than $60,000 a year if a different administrator is hired.

Piazzon said that even though the mayor got a substantial raise, town hall still remains open only four days a week.

"The mayor has maneuvered herself into a comfortable position," Piazzon said.

Cunningham said somebody different should be administrator and controlling the town's financial strings.

"I don't feel the mayor should hold both positions," Cunningham said.

Clay, Piazzon and Cunningham will go before the voters during the Aug. 21 primary election. Ballots will be in the mail the first week of the month.

Community Events, April 2014

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