Business park land up for vote

"A decision that may end an eight-year controversy in Oak Harbor and help mold the future of the city will likely be made this Tuesday night. The Oak Harbor City Council is scheduled to vote on annexing an 80-acre parcel, located just north of town at the end of Gun Club Road, into the city as a future business park. The vote may seem like a no-brainer. After all, the high-tech business park imagined for the site could bring many of the things local business and government leaders think the city needs - more jobs, a diversified economy, higher wages and a larger tax base. But the history behind half of the land - often referred to as the Hackney land - will likely keep at least two council members from voting for the annexation. My vote hasn't changed, said Councilman Rex Hankins, who voted last year against circulating the annexation petition in the first place. It's strictly a thing of ethics for me. The complicated history of the land began in 1992 when Robert Hackney, a Snohomish County developer, bought 40 acres from the city for $130,000, with the condition that he deed back five acres. But several months later, Hackney violated the terms of his permit by clear-cutting the land. The county placed a 10-year building and subdivision moratorium on it as punishment. In 1996, the City Council removed the Hackney land from an annexation because four of the seven members felt that Hackney shouldn't benefit from breaking the law. If annexed into the city, the county moratorium on the land would be nullified and, therefore, the land will be much more valuable. In 1998, a group of local businessmen - developer R. P. Fakkema, contractor Carl Krieg and part-time North Whidbey resident Art Lubin - created Whidbey Tech partnership and obtained an option to purchase the land from Hackney, thereby taking him out of the picture. They again asked the city to annex the land last year and the City Council agreed to the preliminary step of circulating the annexation petition. In the meantime, city planners have also added a new business park zone in the city zoning code designed to create a Microsoft-style campus environment. If the council approves the annexation Tuesday, it will still be years before any businesses are built in the park. Fakkema said Whidbey Tech will only purchase the land from Hackney at the point where it looks like it can be developed. He said Whidbey Tech won't actually develop the land, but plans to sell the acreage to a developer who will put in the utilities and streets. This developer will in turn sell ready-to-build sites to individual businesses. We are not developers, Fakkema said. We are part of a system trying to make this thing happen. Fakkema said the Whidbey Tech partners believe that high-tech firms and light manufacturers would be a good fit for Oak Harbor. The selling points, he said, are the quality of life, the proximity to major metro areas and especially the excellent labor pool made up of Navy spouses and retired Navy. For now, he said Whidbey Tech is searching for both a developer and potential businesses for the site. It's probably three to 10 years down the road, he said, but we can't get there unless we start."

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