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Coupeville residents confront development

It appears battle lines have been drawn in the seemingly quiet, peaceful town of Coupeville, with the sore spot being a 37-plus acre parcel that may or may not become a future site of clustered residential development.

Some 60 resident attending a town hall meeting Monday gave mixed and often emotionally-charged reviews to a proposed major amendment to the town’s land-use plan, with many in the audience chastising officials for what they deem as a comp plan amendment that would compromise Coupeville’s historic and bucolic appeal.

The well-attended meeting, which was called by Town Planner Larry Cort and Mayor Nancy Conard, was intended to generate informal discussion on a series of proposed amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan, a state-mandated document that seeks to plan for 20 years of projected growth.

The majority of the meeting was spent poring over a controversial development scenario first unveiled in May by Cort which places the lion’s share of future development on a chunk of land held by a single property owner.

Cort referred to the plan as “the big ticket,” acknowledging that most in attendance had come to discuss the proposal. He said the goal of the proposal was to accommodate future residential growth as required by the state’s Growth Management Act, while also preserving the town’s pretty rural entry and scenic appeal.

Not everyone was as enamored of the proposal, and many critics of the plan expressed downright disgusted with it.

Coupeville resident Bill Skubi appeared to sum up the feelings of many in the audience when he questioned why the town was proposing to place so much development in the hands of one property owner, without demanding more open space and fewer residential units.

“This isn’t good enough,” Skubi said, with some residents stamping their feet in agreement. “You’re giving away the farm here.”

Long-time Coupeville resident and planning commission member Beuhl Neidlinger at one point referred to the proposed development scenario as a “ghetto,” and questioned why town officials where adhering to the GMA at all when Coupeville resides within Ebey’s Landing Historic Reserve, with its own set of preservation mandates.

The property under consideration is a 37-plus acres parcel owned by developer Cecil Stuurmans and located on the north side of Highway 20 between Broadway and N Main streets.

Right now, the land is dominated by a forest of Douglas firs, with First Street running to dirt just about where the property begins.

Under Cort’s plan, First Street would continue on through the development, intersecting with a continuation of Wilkes Street and then with NW Krueger Street, until it met Broadway at the other end.

The property, which Cort said was chosen for its relative nearness to existing public services and the fact that it already exhibits traits of urban growth, would preserve a 33-foot wide stand of trees running the center of the development as well as 6.5 acres of open space. The plan would allow for 120 single-family dwelling units, with a mixture of houses, cottage dwellings and multi-family apartments and condominiums.

Only 160 single-family residences need be slated for the year 2020 under the requirements of the GMA; including the proposed plan, Coupeville will still be left with a capacity of 559 potential dwellings.

Both Cort and Conard argued that the development scenario, which essentially is a proposed change to the town’s land-use map, is simply smart planning practices. Cort said it adheres to the findings of the 2001 town survey, in that it creates cluster development while preserving rural features and open spaces.

“There are cultural aspects of this property that are important and worth keeping,” Cort said, adding that it would be a mistake to create land-use guidelines that don’t have enough flexibility.

“Historically and socially, one of the worst things you can do is to lock things down,” he said. “I think it’s important to have a release valve within the community.”

One of the best features of the proposal, Cort said, is that it bumps the water rights needed for development from 120 to 90.5. “To me, this is the big argument for doing this,” Cort said.

Others, though, expressed concern over the availability of water in a town currently strapped with some of the highest water rates in the state. Former town mayor Ed Spromberg asked: “Where is the water going to come from to support this thing?” David Medley questioned the wisdom of further draining the town’s sole-source aquifer.

Medley and others were also highly critical of putting the majority of potential development in Stuurmans’ hands. “We’re putting a good share of our development rights in the hands of one individual with a history of sidestepping obligations,” Medley charged.

He cited alleged problems in another of Stuurmans’ properties in town, which he said suffers from poor roads and sidewalks. “I’m hearing that Happy Valley is not all that happy.”

For most of the meeting, the debate appeared to divide those who feel unchecked growth — or any growth at all — will ruin Coupeville, versus those, including Cort and Conard, who feel smart planning is necessary to future development. Often the discussion became heated, especially when Coupeville resident Gary Piazzon asked whether the town would be reimbursed by Stuurmans for all the work Cort has put into the proposed plan.

Nonetheless, Cort said he was pleased with the turnout and ensuing debate, despite its sometime cantankerous nature.

“It was really great to see all the faces out there,” Cort said Tuesday. “A lot of really good points were discussed, and a significant portion of the people seemed to appreciate the reasons why the proposal was presented.”

The proposed comp plan amendments will next be presented at a meeting of the Coupeville Planning Commission at an open meeting Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. Whether the commission opts to support the amendments or not, they will then be passed on for approval to the town council at a subsequent meeting.

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