Unchallenged Oak Harbor council candidates talk priorities

An Oak Harbor native and newcomer will change the makeup of Oak Harbor City Council, but perhaps not the culture.

Neither Jim Woess-ner nor Bill Larsen have plans to shake things up, but they hope to join the council on its current path and help guide the city’s efforts in areas that are important to them.

The two men are running unopposed in November. They will replace long-time councilmen Jim Campbell and Danny Paggao, who both announced early this year that they aren’t seeking reelection.

Woessner was born and raised and graduated in Oak Harbor. He and his late wife, Joan, raised two sons here. He’s a real estate broker and owner of the Sears store in Oak Harbor.

Woessner was involved in many community service endeavors over the years, including the North Whidbey Lions Club and Oak Harbor Rotary. He and real estate broker Craig McKenzie own Hydros for Heroes, the hydroplane races held in the city in August.

“I’m doing this to serve the town,” he said. “Hopefully to contribute and leave the place a little better.”

Larsen has lived on Whidbey Island since 2009 and in Oak Harbor the past couple of years. He and his wife have a son and identical twin daughters. He retired from the Navy after 21 years and continues to work as a substance abuse counselor at the Naval Health Clinic on base.

Larsen was previously a commissioner for the Port of Coupeville. He said the commissioners and staff accomplished a lot in a relatively short time.

Larsen said he sees the current city council as a proactive and well-functioning body that’s free from turmoil; he said he’s impressed at how council members can disagree with one another and remain civil.

“I have three small kids at home,” he said. “I have a lot of drama at home. I wasn’t looking for additional drama.”

Woessner said a priority as councilman is Windjammer Park. The city plans improvements, including the addition of a splash park, as part of the sewage plant treatment project; the city doesn’t have funding identified for improvements to the rest of the park or firm plans.

Woessner said it’s time to make substantial improvements to the park.

“We have an opportunity to do something that will make the town better for generations,” he said.

For example, he said, the swimming lagoon is past its prime and should be replaced. He said he wants the park to be a more inviting place for events and community gatherings.

“It’s all got to be about family and kids,” he said.

Larsen said one of his top concerns is homelessness. He said there’s “a lot of great things” happening to combat the problem on the community level.

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition received grant funding through Island County for an overnight shelter, called the Haven, in Oak Harbor. Until a permanent site is found, the shelter operates out of church halls on a rotating bases using a two-person paid staff and a legion of volunteers.

Larsen said he wants to see if the city can also help with the issue.

“I know that government isn’t always the answer,” he said, “but it can be part of the solution.”

Woessner and Larsen agree with the council stance on Wright’s Crossing, a proposed, large-scale, affordable housing project south of the city. The council approved a resolution supporting further review of Wright’s Crossing’s application to the county for an expansion of the city’s urban growth area, or UGA, to include property south of the city.

Larsen said a lack of affordable housing is a problem, and Wright’s Crossing might be part of the solution. He said it’s worth exploring, though he has many questions about the proposal.

Larsen said the city should also look at other ideas, such as finding ways to entice construction companies to build more affordable housing in the city.

“I think there’s a combination of things we can do to address the issue,” he said.

As a land developer, Woessner said he understands better than most the sizable regulatory hurdles facing Wright’s Crossing. He said he’s frustrated with the state Growth Man-agement Act, which controls the expansion of city limits through a process that involves urban growth areas; the purpose is to control urban sprawl.

“It shouldn’t be up to somebody sitting in Olympia to decide what’s best for our community,” he said.

Woessner served on an affordable housing task force set up by Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson and Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns. He said the group came up with a list of ideas for helping with the problem; he hopes the city considers the ideas, such as changing code to allow for accessory dwelling units or adjusting zoning to allow more flexibility in building.

“I think the city has some opportunities to make changes that will help with the issue,” he said.

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