Commissioners likely to defer Wright’s Crossing

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council want discussions to continue on a regulatory step that would help clear the way for a large-scale residential development on property currently outside the city.

They also want Island County to reevaluate a study of the amount of developable lands within the city and urban growth area.

It appears, however, that the elected officials who make the decisions want to put off those steps for a couple of years.

County commissioners Jill Johnson and Rick Hannold said during interviews this week that they will likely vote to defer a key decision regarding the city’s urban growth area and the planning commission docket. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson could not be reached for comment.

“It doesn’t mean that I’m for or against the application,” Johnson said. “I’m just saying there’s nothing that’s eligible for the docket right now.”

ON TUESDAY, city council members unanimously approved a resolution supporting further review of an application by Wright’s Crossing LLC to expand the city’s urban growth area, a necessary step toward moving the development project forward.

The developer applied to the county for expansion of Oak Harbor’s urban growth area, or UGA, to be considered as part of the planning commission’s docket, a step in a lengthy process that would proceed construction.

The applicant wants to build 1,000 to 1,500 homes on 250 acres outside city limits on Monroe Landing Road.

To be developed to the necessary density, the property needs to be annexed into the city.

To get into the UGA, a proposed expansion of the UGA has to be accepted onto the planning commission’s docket, or list of projects, for next year.

IF THE item gets on to the docket, the next step would be a “buildable lands analysis,” a study that’s supposed to determine if there’s enough vacant property within city limits to handle 20 years of population growth. The state Growth Management Act tries to encourage development in-fill and discourage urban sprawl through the UGA process.

Island County adopted a buildable lands analysis just last December. It found that there’s more than enough room within city limits to support growth for 20 years.

Some people — including the Wright’s Crossing developer — question the study’s accuracy and want it redone, possibly with a new methodology.

THE ISLAND County Planning Commission last month voted to recommend that the county commissioners deny the UGA expansion request, but Johnson and Hannold say they prefer deferral, meaning the issue would automatically be considered for inclusion on the planning commission docket at a future date.

Johnson said she believes the timing is wrong for next year’s docket.

The state is looking into methodologies for buildable lands analyses and will come out with the results next fall, which will likely affect the ways all counties do the analyses.

It doesn’t make sense to change the analysis just to change it again next fall, she said.

“We don’t have the resources to do this again and again,” she said.

JOHNSON HAD asked city council members to publicly state their views on the Wright’s Crossing proposal, saying it will help the commissioners make a decision. She said the resolution isn’t what she was looking for, though it’s helpful to know that council members have issues with the buildable lands analysis methodology.

What she hoped for, she said, is for the city to engage in a full public process — including consideration by the city planning commission — to vet the proposal.

Under the comprehensive plan amendment process, the city was supposed to go through a full public process and, if warranted, adopt a resolution in support of the proposal before the commissioners would consider it.

The resolution acknowledges, however, that “unusual circumstances surrounding the review timing for the subject” made it necessary for “the City Council to make its preliminary determination on this application without benefit of the community’s or the Planning Commission’s review.”

The applicant submitted the request just prior to the deadline for consideration for the docket.

“The community doesn’t even know what they have because they haven’t taken the time to have that conversation and to see what’s there,” Johnson said.

THE COUNCIL did receive input from community members during two meetings in which the topic was discussed. A handful of people on both sides of the issue spoke on Tuesday.

Christine Cribb, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said the lack of affordable housing in the community is the No. 1 priority for the chamber’s legislative affairs committee. She said a review of the proposal should continue.

“I know that most of you probably live in big beautiful houses that you’ve lived in for 20 or 30 years,” she said, “however, if you were someone new coming to town making the median income in Oak Harbor, it’s very difficult to find housing.”

SCOTT HAMPTON, who works with Oak Harbor’s Waldron Construction, argued against the proposal. He called the proposed development “a mirage” and said the sky is not falling on residential development. Hampton said he blames city leadership for the lack of construction.

“It’s disappointing that city leaders give preferable treatment to a Nevada developer and push our 30 years of development to the side.”

In the end, each council member said they favor continuing the review of the proposal, which means including it on the planning commission docket.

Councilman Danny Paggao noted the resolution gets the ball rolling and doesn’t commit the city to approving the project..

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