EDITORIAL: Camp Casey is in good hands

Central Whidbey’s Camp Casey is due for some changes if its owner, Seattle Pacific University, gets everything it wants from the Special Review District zoning approved Monday by Island County Commissioners.

Plans are to sell 30-acres on the north end of the property, proceeds from which will be used to help pay for a number of new buildings aimed at expanding the capacity of the camp from 670 to 1,030 “beds” for overnighters. The old Army camp is used for a variety of meetings, from sports groups to educational and religious seminars.

Serious and legitimate questions are prompted by the plans. Some of the “heritage forest” trees would have to be removed, a road would be built, and neighbors could expect more traffic as usage increases. Most perplexing of all is where the water would come from. The town of Coupeville provides water to Camp Casey, but literally does not have another drop to spare. SPU would have to develop an alternative source of water to proceed with expansion.

Expanding Camp Casey isn’t our preferred alternative for the property. It would be nice to keep it as it is, but SPU can’t afford to do that. The camp operates on its own revenues and money generated by the present facilities can’t keep up with costs. SPU could sell to developers, of course, but nobody wants that. Ideally, SPU would sell Camp Casey to Washington State Parks or some other entity that would maintain the historic buildings and keep the facilities and grounds as they are and open for public use. Unfortunately, the state is broke. If there are other prospective buyers we haven’t heard of them.

Realistically, Camp Casey’s future is best left in the hands of Seattle Pacific University. It has long been a good neighbor to Central Whidbey, making the camp available to the public. It has great views, a terrific beach, a swimming pool, trails, and a world class birding area, all open to the public at no cost to taxpayers.

With that in mind, the immediate concern is the future of the 30-acres to the north. Again, we do not want this land sold to developers. Perhaps it could be added to Ebey’s Reserve, supporters of which have a knack for finding the money needed to retain the area’s historic and natural character. SPU should work closely with the community to find an appropriate buyer for the land.

As for the new buildings and other aspects of future development, they will still need to undergo a detailed permitting process even though they are part of the Special Review District. The public can voice concerns along the way, and the county can require any negative impacts to be mitigated.

Given the options, letting SPU pursue its development plans under the watchful eye of the county and area citizens appears to be the best alternative for Camp Casey. SPU has a track record of being a good neighbor to the community, and can be expected to proceed with due care and caution.

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