Hearing examiner approval of The Haven appealed

A property owner is appealing the Island County hearing examiner’s decision.

A property owner is appealing the Island County hearing examiner’s decision that allows for a Jehovah’s Witness church in Central Whidbey to be converted into an emergency overnight shelter for homeless people.

Kyle Green filed a land use petition in Island County Superior Court Oct. 27 against Baz Stevens, who represents the Langley-based Whidbey Homeless Coalition, and Island County. Green previously was successful in appealing to the hearing examiner, but the hearing examiner approved the site plan after it was resubmitted as a Type III review.

Green alleges a long list of factual errors as well as errors of law by county Hearing Examiner Andrew Reeves. The petition claims, for example, that evidence does not support his conclusions that the project is an emergency night-to-night shelter, that the property is a sufficient size to accommodate the development, that the project has adequate sewage treatment and water or that the staffing was adequate.

In addition, the petition claims that Reeves’ decisions were based on erroneous interpretations of law and that the procedure was unlawful.

Two years ago, the coalition was awarded a $415,000 shelter grant from the state Department of Commerce to purchase the building and property. The group plans to convert the unused church on Morris Road into a new home for The Haven shelter. The emergency shelter currently runs out of Oak Harbor churches on a rotating basis.

The process of getting county approval for the project has had twists and turns.

In December of 2021, the county planning department conducted a site plan review and approved, with conditions, the coalition’s proposal to develop the property in two phases. The first phase, a Type II review, would allow up to 12 guests and the second phase, or Type III, allows for up to 30 guests.

Green, who co-owns a property less than a mile away from the church, appealed to the hearing examiner, claiming that the planning department’s approval was contrary to law and that the analysis should have been for the ultimate buildout of the facility for 30 occupants.

Neighbors of the church also spoke out against it and gathered more than 400 signatures in a petition. The residents cited an increase in crime, the rural location, the impact of Navy aircraft noise on guests, an inadequate septic system and the effect on property values.

Other residents argued that having a permanent location for The Haven was vital to the welfare of the island’s most vulnerable and that the Central Whidbey location was the best solution. More than 700 people signed an online petition in support of the project.

The hearing examiner agreed with Green on the scope of the review, finding that the piecemeal approach was contrary to law since the county knew the ultimate goal was for a 30-guest facility.

As a result, the coalition went back to the drawing board and submitted a proposal for up to 30 guests under a more onerous Type III review.

Dozens of people submitted written comments and spoke at a hearing before the hearing examiner.

Reeves filed his decision approving the revised application on Oct. 5.