Mayor reacts too hastily

Mayor Patty Cohen jumped the gun in reacting to a plan to develop a large parcel of land near the Navy base into a retail center.

The 17-acres in question is located at the corner of Highway 20 and Ault Field Road and has long been eyed by developers, including Wal-Mart before it opted for its site on the other end of town.

The site’s major problem is that it’s in the Navy’s flight path, which is why Wal-Mart was persuaded to opt out. The Navy is reluctant to fly its jets over a major shopping center. Chances of a crash at that precise site are slim, but the consequences would be disastrous on a busy shopping day.

When Cohen heard last week that property owner Don Boyer had a deal pending with a Bellingham developer to bring 165,000 square feet of mall-like businesses to the site, she hastily called a special Friday night meeting of the City Council, hoping to put a moratorium on building there. In the long run, she hopes the city can purchase the property and plant trees, thereby assuring the Navy of an unobstructed flight path. That meeting was later canceled after certain council members expressed opposition. One reason was that Boyer had not been notified of the meeting.

The problem with all this is that the public was left in the dark. After all, it’s up to the citizens of Oak Harbor, through their elected representatives, what they want done with the site. The Navy has a right to make recommendations and its opinion is highly respected and listened to carefully, but ultimately the City Council will decide.

The property is presently zoned C-4, and there’s some doubt if that even allows a major shopping center. Getting permission to build there would require a lengthy review by the planning department and, ultimately, council action, so there’s no hurry.

City officials, including the mayor, should just relax and let the process work. Air all competing ideas thoroughly and publicly, keeping the citizens of Oak Harbor informed. There are pros and cons for all the options: Many city residents want more shopping options, while others would love to see a 17-acre forest greet visitors to our fair city. Nobody wants to take anyone’s property rights way or do something that would make the Pentagon start looking elsewhere for a base with less encroachment concerns.

It’s a complicated issue, but the correct decision will ultimately be made if an informed public is involved every step of the way.

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