Fair, city near settlement

The long-running dispute between the city of Langley and the Island County Fair Board over a proposed road easement is nearing an end.

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton appears to have been successful in facilitating an agreement between the two entities. Although the verbiage is still being tweaked by county and city attorneys to make it amenable to both sides, the document could be approved within the next two weeks barring any monumental changes.

“We’re happy that it’s coming to an end ... we hope,” said Dan Ollis, fair board chairman. “We’re looking forward to some closure. This has created some awkward relationships. In a perfect world this wouldn’t have happened.”

At one point both groups were at the end of their respective ropes and it appeared the dispute would spill over into the courtroom.

“I think the agreement provides all parties with a reasonable settlement and more importantly it provides certainty rather than delegating that decision to a judge,” Shelton said in an e-mail sent from New York. “I believe everyone had agreed already on the principles of the settlement, so in my opinion it is a done deal.”

The issue arose in 2005 when the city approached the fair board about obtaining an easement across the southern tip of the fairgrounds property. Access to Fairgrounds Road will be crucial in alleviating traffic problems created by the 53-home Highlands housing project, now in construction.

Nuances of the original agreement have already changed, said Walt Blackford, Langley city administrator.

“The only copy approved for release is already outdated,” he said Thursday. “The commissioners haven’t even seen it yet. But I’m optimistic that the commissioners will review and approve it within two weeks.”

When pondering the feasibility and impacts of the easement, the fair board was concerned about a number of issues, including storm water drainage, road closure during the fair and possible space constraints for horse trailers and carnival rides being delivered to the grounds.

“It’s all those kinds of incidentals,” said Island County Commissioner John Dean, adding that the concerns had been adequately addressed in the agreement. “It’s nothing major that’s going to kill the deal. It’s like buying a house; who’s going to pay for what.”

According to the agreement, prospective residents eyeing homes in the vicinity of the fairgrounds will be given a “No Gripe Coming” notice before purchasing a house.

“We want people to know that we’ve been there for 100 years and we want to be there for another 100 years,” Ollis said. “Don’t complain, you’re living next to a fairground.”

The city plans to extend sewer lines through the front of the property for an RV pump out station on the fair campgrounds. Langley will also provide fencing.

Blackford said part of the agreement also stipulates that Shelton and Langley Mayor Neil Colburn meet with engineers to “work on a couple of small details.” Ollis added that the city and fair board have agreed to work together on zoning issues.

As the dispute wore on, Dean said the county commissioners were criticized for not intervening and taking action, when in fact, the opposite was taking place.

“What I don’t think people understand is that Mike’s been working on this since I came onboard,” he said. “Some of the bad press and bad Internet have just not been understanding that he’s been doing this. People thought the commissioners weren’t taking any action. In fact, Mike was very active all that time.”

Dean’s perception was that the public was looking for the commissioners to employ a heavy-handed approach in affecting a resolution.

“I’m all about negotiation and statesmanship and diplomacy,” Dean said. “I think sometimes our governments have this unilateral approach where we’re just going to go in there, we’re not going to take names, and we’re going to make people do what we want. I respected Mike and Mac (McDowell) for not taking that approach.”

Dean first learned about the dispute while campaigning for the position he ultimately won. At the time he believed the issue was a no-brainer: grant Langley the easement. At the same time, the commissioner could empathize. He managed the Stanwood Camano Community Fair for years and worked on the fair board.

“I understand the established personalities in the community and I ran into the same thing over there,” the Camano Island resident said. “You have to work through your problems to find a resolution.”

With a resolution pending, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is now mercifully in sight.

“I think this was accomplished in good time knowing some of the roadblocks that were there,” Dean said, ignoring the pun. “This is exactly how we dreamed it would be resolved. Going to court just didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t understand why we would play it out like that. That was my hope. I trusted Mike to do it and he did it.”

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