Developer files suit to reverse county’s decision

Island County submitted an answer and affirmative defense last month to a lawsuit filed by a developer who wants to build a large housing project outside of Oak Harbor.

Among the county’s affirmative defenses is a claim that the developer acted with “unclean hands,” which means unethically or in bad faith. The document does not expound on the claim.

The attorney for Wright’s Crossing, Dennis Reynolds of Bainbridge Island, said the allegation is a standard affirmative defense.

“We’re not reading much into the unclean hands allegation,” he said.

Wright’s Crossing LLC and its manager and owner, Scott Thompson, filed the writ of review in Skagit County Superior Court Nov. 28. Thompson is asking a judge to reverse the county commissioners’ decision to exclude a requested expansion of the city’s urban growth area, or UGA, from the planning commission’s docket.

The writ of review also asks the judge to find that the commissioners’ decision not to address the accuracy of the county’s buildable lands analysis is illegal.

Also, Reynolds said he plans to file an appeal with the Growth Management Hearings Board and an amended petition with the court next week.

THE COMMISSIONERS’ de-cision regarding the docket last month blocked the housing project since the land earmarked for the development is outside of city boundaries and cannot be built with the necessary density.

The land has to be inside the UGA to be annexed into the City of Oak Harbor.

The UGA expansion request must be on the Planning Commission’s docket before county officials can even consider the question.

In making their decision, commissioners pointed to the buildable lands analysis, completed in 2016, which found that there’s more than enough vacant property within Oak Harbor’s current UGA to allow for 20 years worth of growth. Under the Growth Management Act, the UGA cannot be expanded unless there’s a need.

The writ, however, questions the accuracy of the analysis. It states that Wright’s Crossing did a public records request for the “‘show your work’ statistics” and other information used to prepare the buildable lands analysis; the writ states that the county refused or is unable to provide the information.

“THE COMMISSIONERS’public position is that the City ‘must do a better job with permitting’ and ignored the reality that developable lots are not available to service new residential growth,” the writ states.

The writ argues that the county is failing to follow the Growth Management Act or its own policies. It states, for example, that the county’s long-range planning is not consistent with county-wide planning policies.

The writ of review argues that there is a “single-family residential housing availability crisis” in the county and that delaying the Wright’s Crossing project “will result in the housing crisis getting worse, driving North Whidbey housing prices upward, and forcing more military and civilian workers to live off the island.”

THE WRIT argues that a housing crisis will affect members of the military.

“The United States Navy will not provide any new on-base housing at the Whidbey Island Station,” the writ states, “forcing service members to live hours away from the base. Since the service members have housing, albeit totally inconvenient, the Navy views the situation as adequate; it is not.”

In studying the housing issue this year, the Navy assumed sailors and their families will live within an hour’s drive of the base.

The study did not identify a housing crisis in the future, but the study is going to be redone next year because it didn’t take into account the uptick in sailors associated with an increase in EA-18G Growler aircraft.

ACCORDING TO the lawsuit, Wright’s Crossing has development rights to 288 acres south of Oak Harbor. Once annexed into the city, the property would be zoned to allow for development of 1,000 to 1,500 homes.

“The homes would be modestly priced with a percentage offered as ‘affordable housing,’” it states.

The writ argues that the commissioners’ decision is “erroneous and/or void.”

As an alternative argument, the writ states that the decision was “capricious and illegal.”

The county’s answer, written by attorneys in the Island County Prosecutor’s Office, responds to the writ paragraph by paragraph. It also lists affirmative defenses, including claims that Wright’s Crossing failed to state a claim, failed to exhaust administrative remedies, lacks standing, and is barred by lack of jurisdiction and statute of limitations.

The county asks that the writ be dismissed with prejudice and that Wright’s Crossing pay the county’s attorney’s fees and costs.

“We deny Wright’s Crossing’s allegations that the County did anything unlawful, contrary to the Growth Management Act, or contrary to our own regulations,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

“We will defend the County’s lawful actions in court.”