The Island County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday on the 2018 docket, which did not include the Wright’s Crossing application.
The controversial proposal for a large-scale development south of Oak Harbor was nearly the only subject of discussion during the public comment period of the meeting. For the application to move forward, the land proposed for development would have to be designated as an urban growth area, or UGA, and inclusion on the Island County Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan amendment docket is necessary for changing UGA boundaries.
Eleven of the 16 members of the public, including two lawyers for the developer, who spoke at the meeting voiced support for inclusion of the application. Supporters expressed concern over the lack of affordable housing on the island.
“I’ve been a Realtor in this county for 36 years, and I have never seen the crisis that we have,” said Kathi Phillips at the meeting.
Most critics of the application noted the island has an affordable housing problem, but urged the commissioners to look at solutions outside of this project.
“If you think that there’s a housing problem on the island, if you think in particular there’s an affordable housing problem on the island and in Oak Harbor, the best way to deal with that is to do exactly what you’re proposing to do— focus on it,” said William Stelle. “Wright’s Crossing is a complete distraction.”
Others spoke of wanting to maintain the island’s rural character by preserving open space and farm land.
Many who spoke in favor of the application said inclusion is different than accepting the proposal; they argued having it on the docket would just allow feasibility studies to continue.
Wright’s Crossing “supports public participation, but it’s hard to have participation if the ball’s not put into play to at least study,” said Dennis Reynolds, an attorney for the developer.
After public comment, the commissioners and planning staff clarified that the most recent policy for the docket dictates that only projects near completion be included.
“We bake it a little bit on the work plan and when it’s ready to be served, we move it to the docket,” said Beverly Mesa-Zendt, assistant planning director.
The commissioners have not yet officially set the work plan for 2018, but the application is not included at this time. Before voting, commissioners Rick Hannold and Helen Price Johnson said there are better solutions to the affordable housing crisis in recommendations recently offered by an affordable housing task force. Price Johnson said the three items that are included in the docket are items that have been in the works for a long time, and they should be prioritized.
“We are not on the mainland; we are not Houston; we are not places that can just continually expand and expand,” she said.
Commissioner Jill Johnson said the project might seem like the fastest way to address affordable housing but agreed that developing projects in areas already designated as UGAs is a better approach.
She also commented on the fact that these concerns had not been brought forward during the update to the comprehensive plan, which included a buildable lands analysis, completed last year.
“I’m not a mind reader,” she said.
“Participating after a process is closed is challenging and it makes me feel terrible that you feel like you weren’t represented,” she later added. “It also makes me feel somewhat terrible that the person who came to town most recently is deemed in your mind having greater concern for this community and its future than I do, than the people elected to represent you do.”