A proposed manufactured housing development south of Oak Harbor has triggered an outcry from neighbors and a local environmental group.
An application was submitted to Island County to build a 30-unit park on a 20-acre property at the corner of Balda and Miller roads.
The land is owned by Bill Massey. However, if the permits are acquired, he will sell it to the developer Colin Smith.
Smith did not respond to multiple requests from the Whidbey News-Times for comment. At a public meeting about the project held in August, Smith said he intends for the units to cost around $300,000 and below.
“What we’re going for is an up-scale, double-wide with either an attached or detached one-car or two-car garages kind of look.” he said at the meeting. He said he hopes to provide “quality affordable housing in the area.”
Manufactured homes are identified in Island County’s comprehensive plan as a viable option for low-cost housing, and it states that policies should “streamline permit review” for low-cost projects.
“It’s a price point that, if they can keep it there, would be able to fill a huge need that we have here in Island County,” said Joanne Pelant, housing resource coordinator for Island County Human Services.
The location of the project is a significant point of contention. The area is under rural zoning, but Island County code allows manufactured housing parks as a “conditional use” that provides for greater density, according to Planning Director Hiller West. The application for the project will be reviewed by the county hearing examiner who will issue a decision after a public hearing on the matter.
Six people who live near the property spoke during an Island County Board of Commissioners meeting last week about their concerns related to water quality, the aquifer and traffic in the area.
Several area residents mentioned that a portion of the land used to be a chicken farm, and for years the chicken manure may not have been properly disposed of.
Some of those who spoke said they thought it was possible the surface and ground water may be contaminated by the fecal matter.
Ed Adamson said during the meeting he grew up on that farm.
“They talk about chicken manure,” Adamson said. “Years ago we just dumped it.”
Others worried that a well for 30 additional units would overwork the aquifer.
Area resident Greg Speck noted that salt water intrusion issues in San Juan county were a result of aquifers being drawn from at too high a rate.
“We don’t want this to come to fruition and, five years down the road, no one has water to drink,” Speck said during an interview.
An application for water rights on the property was submitted to the Washington State Department of Ecology, said Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman. As part of the application process, state officials will determine the production rate the well will need for the development and if that will impact other wells.
Higman said a sea water intrusion risk review will be part of that process.
Other questions about water quality related to the fact that the rural area does not have a sewer system, and some felt the drain field would be undersized for a development of 30 units.
Because of the size of septic system needed, it would be regulated by the state Department of Health.
Higman said state employees will evaluate the site and ensure the groundwater is not contaminated.
Higman said a county health employee did visit the site to do a soil analysis, and she said the area where conventional soil is at least four feet deep is probably too small for a traditional drain field for 30 units.
All this means, Higman said, is the drain field would need to be built to a higher standard.
“Twenty acres is plenty enough land for a septic system for 30 units,” he said.
Speck said he believes it makes more sense for the development to go within Oak Harbor’s city limits, where it could be connected to city water and sewer. He and others also cited increased traffic as a safety concern if the units are built.
Public Works Director Bill Oakes said the applicant submitted a traffic report from a consultant and the county will review traffic flow impacts as part of the permitting process. He said Washington State Department of Transportation was also sent materials from the report and he hopes they will provide comments.
Some of the neighbors reached out to the Whidbey Environmental Action Network with their concerns.
WEAN spokeswoman Marianne Edain said she shares the neighbors’ concerns about ground water quality and has additional ones about the density and compliance with the Growth Management Act.
“Urban development in a rural area is obviously inconsistent with the GMA,” she said.
Her fear is that other developers — such as Wright’s Crossing, a proposed large-scaled affordable housing development south of Oak Harbor that was hindered by rural zoning — will follow in this project’s footsteps.
“My prediction is that Wright’s Crossing is going to look at this and say, ‘if they can do this why can’t we?’” Edain said. “It sets a terrible, terrible precedent.”
Island County Commis-sioner Jill Johnson said during the meeting she and other county officials appreciate the public’s involvement but their input won’t necessarily change the outcome.
Johnson said the board can’t take action to either approve or stop the project from happening.
In an interview, Johnson said she trusts the regulatory framework of the process to address the concerns and questions voiced.
“Land use decisions aren’t based on community feedback,” she said. “Outcomes are based on what can be done under existing codes.”