Plans for large Oak Harbor development face obstacles

A proposal for a large, affordable-housing development south of Oak Harbor suffered a major setback this week.

On the other hand, members of the limited liability corporation behind the Wrights Crossing proposal, as well as a city councilman, held a well-attended informational meeting this week to educate the public about the plans and the need for affordable housing.

“For me, it’s about the American dream,” Councilman Joel Servatius said. “One of the tenets of the American dream is to own your own house.”

ISLAND COUNTY Com-missioner Jill Johnson also attended the meeting and said she sees a lack of understanding of the lengthy and complicated process necessary to bring the property into the city, which is required for the development to move forward.

“I listened and left concerned that the city, the chamber and the developer seem to be so unfamiliar with the GMA process and the steps involved in expanding the UGA. It’s a very established process in Washington state,” Johnson said, referring to the state’s Growth Management Act and the urban growth area.

Staff members in the Island County Planning Department will recommend to the county Planning Commission Monday that it either exclude the proposal from the comprehensive plan docket or defer it to the next periodic cycle. If the planning commission agrees, it would represent a major hurdle for the developers since inclusion in the docket is vital.

OAK HARBOR resident Scott Thompson, an experienced utility planner for large developments, is the principal investor in Wright’s Crossing LLC. The group is seeking to build between 1,000 to 1,500 single-family homes on 10 parcels of land that total nearly 250 acres, according to the group’s application.

The property is located on Monroe Landing Road, across from the Blue Fox Drive-in. It is outside of city limits; the land would need to be annexed into the city and zoned so the development can have the necessary density.

The process of getting the property into the city, however, is long, complicated and filled with potential stumbling blocks.

THE FIRST step to annexation is for the property to be included in the Joint Planning Area; the city of Oak Harbor already proposed expanding it to include the Wrights Crossing land, but the process takes time.

If included in the Joint Planning Area, the property then must be designated by the county as part of the city’s urban growth area, or UGA, which is a necessary step before it can be annexed into the city. For that to happen, a proposed UGA expansion would first have to be accepted into the planning commission’s docket, or list of work.

Wrights Crossing submitted an application for the proposed expansion to be included in the docket, but the staff found numerous reasons to exclude it — or at least delay consideration.

The staff’s findings are explained in a staff review report that commissioners briefly discussed Wednesday.

THE REPORT argues that an expansion isn’t allowed because there’s already enough room for projected population growth in the current city limits. The county conducted a buildable lands analysis and incorporated the anticipated personnel increase at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as part of the 2016 comprehensive plan update.

The report states that projected growth numbers in the Wrights Crossing application aren’t completely supported by the data. It says that there’s enough capacity for growth in the city limits even if the numbers are correct.

The report states that the proposed expansion isn’t in line with the Countywide Planning Policies. In addition, it says the amount of staff time it would take to handle the application would be prohibitive, especially if a new buildable lands analysis is needed.

THE PROPONENTS of the Wrights Crossing argue that the project will be the solution to the county’s affordable housing crisis.

Thompson explained to a packed crowd at the Best Western conference center that he plans to build homes in the price range of $210,000 to $295,000.

There is currently no inventory on the island for homes in that price range, he said.

In addition, he said the group is prepared to make a $10 million investment in the project — and the community.

CARL HALSAN, also a Wrights Crossing representative, said there are only about 78 acres on scattered lots available for development within the city.

He said it’s not realistic to think developing these lots can solve the affordable housing problem.

Servatius said the a lack of affordable housing on the island is the No. 1 issue that people speak to him about, and he sees the Wrights Crossing project as a solution.

Servatius said he would like to see growth planned and not done piecemeal.