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Camp Casey rezone repealed

It looks as though Seattle Pacific University is taking one step backward in its plans to expand the Casey Conference Center on Central Whidbey.

The university asked the county to repeal the special review district and return the property to its original rural zoning designation.

Assistant Planning Director Jeff Tate said repealing the review district ordinance should bring the property into compliance with the Growth Management Act.

The review district was shot down by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board last August. The board gave the county six months to bring the property into GMA compliance, which is a deadline that comes at the end of February.

Darrell Hines, associate vice president for Business and Facility Services at SPU, said repealing the ordinance was the best way to meet the deadline and still develop an acceptable expansion plan.

“We are looking at options,” Hines said.

SPU wants to expand the Casey Conference Center to attract a more adult clientele and generate more revenue, Hines said.

With the Special Review District zoning, the university planned to add six buildings, a chapel, 50 cabins, 240 parking spaces, a small sewage treatment plant and water facilities.

However, Whidbey Environmental Action Network appealed to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The Langley-based organization was concerned the expansion would have a negative impact on the surrounding environment.

One notable concern WEAN had was that the university’s plans to expand into the nearby wooded area would make the trees more susceptible to windblow.

The Hearings Board struck down the Special Review District last August and remanded it back to the county.

Hines didn’t know when the university would develop a new plan, but they still want to expand the center and bring in more money. If the property can’t bring in more revenue, SPU may have to look at selling.

Before repealing the zoning, the Board of Island County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Feb. 23 during their weekly meeting.

County officials then meet with the Growth Management Hearings Board in May to see whether the center complies with the GMA.

One reason expansion plans have been put on the back burner is that SPU is trying to sell a 33-acre parcel known as the Bocker Reserve.

The property, located north of the Casey Conference Center, is currently divided into five lots. All of the lots have a waterfront view.

SPU officials said in the past that the money raised from the property sale would go toward paying for the expansion.

One local group, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, is trying to buy the property and preserve it.

The area is home to the golden paintbrush, which is one of 11 remaining populations left in the world.

Pat Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, said that she is still negotiating with SPU.

She hopes to have some kind of offer for the SPU board when it meets in May.

Although she wouldn’t give any specifics on the how much money is involved, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust recently received a $1.5 million grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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