SPU appeal heads to hearings board

Deliberations concerning the future of the Camp Casey Conference Center are beginning as the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board will hear preliminary motions May 13 concerning an appeal filed by a local environmental watchdog group.

Officials from the Whidbey Environmental Action Network argue that Seattle Pacific University’s plans to expand the Casey Conference Center constitute urban growth and is also a master planned resort, said Steve Erickson, litigation coordinator for WEAN.

Master planned resorts are prohibited in Island County.

Tim Martin, a Langley-based attorney representing SPU, said the center’s focus on retreats, conference space and education facilities doesn’t fit the definition of a destination resort.

Martin stressed that the center’s classification as a special review district doesn’t circumvent any of the county’s permitting process.

“All that’s taking place is a rezone,” Martin said, adding that SPU has to go through the same processes as any other development.

SPU plans to expand the number of beds at the center from 670 to 1,030, build additional conference space and provide additional parking and infrastructure.

Officials have previously said the expansion is necessary to make the center more appealing to adult groups and generate more revenue.

Island County approved rezoning the conference center to a special review district in which SPU has to develop a master plan outlining its intentions for the land. Plans for development would be prohibited if the land remained in its rural designation.

WEAN officials previously said development threatens the surrounding woods while SPU officials contend the woods are a major feature of the center and can build in the area while preserving the woods.

In addition to the issues concerning the development, Arne Denny, deputy prosecutor for Island County, is presenting two motions, one changing the process in which a group makes an appeal and another questioning the standing of WEAN to appeal issues covered under the State Environmental Protection Act.

With the process issue, Denny is arguing that appeals such as WEANs’ should be appealed to the county first, then to the board. He pointed out that groups such as the Central Puget Sound Hearings Board uses a similar process.

As with the standing issue, Denny is arguing that WEAN doesn’t meet the criteria to appeal the determination of non-significance.

While the groups present their motions Tuesday, a decision won’t be expected until May 21. Another hearing is scheduled for July 15 in Coupeville.

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