Citizen coalition launches letter campaign, website

A small group of mostly anonymous Oak Harbor citizens started a grassroots effort they hope will lead to further consideration of a large housing development.

The Coalition for Affordable Housing on Whidbey Island is made up of about a half dozen residents who say they are concerned about a lack of affordable housing, according to resident Leo Mitchell.

They believe the Wright’s Crossing housing project, and the proposed expansion of the city’s urban growth area, or UGA, is worth continued analysis, Mitchell said.

“Why not embrace the opportunity to explore it instead of shooting it down?”

The group created a website, www.the coalitionforaffordablehousingonwhidbey.org. It allows visitors to send a pre-written note, or write their own letter, to the Island County commissioners or Oak Harbor City Council members.

“As you deliberate your decision to place the expansion of the UGA and the application of Wrights Crossing on the 2018 docket, I strongly urge you to vote for the placement in 2018 and not to consider a deferral as a means to address the critical housing crisis here on Whidbey Island,” the pre-written email to the commissioners states.

Mitchell said other members of the coalition wish to stay anonymous because they fear a backlash. He said neither he nor the other members are connected to Wright’s Crossing, but they all care about the affordable housing issue.

Mitchell said the website is an easy way for the “silent majority” to express their opinion to the commissioners, who are scheduled to make a crucial decision Tuesday.

The Wright’s Crossing developers asked for a UGA expansion to go on the planning commission’s docket for comprehensive plan amendments, a necessary step.

Each of the three county commissioners, however, have repeatedly said they don’t plan to place the proposed UGA expansion on the docket. They are holding a public meeting at 10 a.m., Nov. 7, after which they plan to set the docket.

Until a couple of weeks ago, “the vast, vast, vast majority” of emails he received were from people opposed to the UGA expansion, Commissioner Rick Hannold said.

Since then, Hannold said, he’s received a lot of “cut-and-paste” emails in favor of the UGA expansion, mostly from real estate agents.

He said those kinds of emails don’t have much significance to him.

“If someone actually takes the time to write a letter, I give it a lot more weight,” he said.

Still, Hannold said, letters are not likely to change his mind on the issue. He said Wright’s Crossing shouldn’t get special treatment.

“Get in line and wait your turn,” he said. “There are other things on the docket that need to be done first.”

Many people have misunderstandings about the proposed project, which is for 1,000 to 1,500 homes on acreage south of the city, Mitchell said.

He said the developer is willing to do an environmental impact study and a traffic study. He questions what would be lost by continuing the discussion and gathering more data.

“There seems to be a hidden agenda we can’t figure out,” he said.

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