Wright’s Crossing LLC lost its fifth attempt to reverse a 2017 decision by Island County commissioners that blocks a proposed urban growth area expansion needed for a large housing development on North Whidbey.
The state Court of Appeals filed an unpublished decision April 12 affirming a lower court decision in the case. Wright’s Crossing and its manager, Scott Thompson, have 20 days to ask for a reconsideration or 30 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, who was on the board in 2017, said she hopes the decision will bring an end to the “hyperbolic nonsense.”
“If you want to do business in Island County you need to understand Washington state laws. Las Vegas rules don’t apply,” she said, referring to Thompson’s work as a developer in Nevada before moving to Oak Harbor.
Over the past few years, Thompson backed several candidates for office who argued in favor of the Wright’s Crossing project — which became a political issue for a time — but the proposal hasn’t been revisited.
Neither Wright’s Crossing nor its attorney immediately responded to calls for comment.
As the Appeals Court decision explains, Wright’s Crossing proposed a moderate-income housing development of 1,000 to 1,500 homes on 250 acres of farmland south of Oak Harbor. Thompson said at the time that the project would help solve the affordable housing crisis on Whidbey Island.
The property, however, is in the county and the zoning doesn’t allow for dense development. For the project to move forward, it would need to be annexed into Oak Harbor. Before that can happen, it would have to be added to the city’s urban growth area, which is the intermittent zoning overlay.
Under the state Growth Management Act, Island County commissioners have authority over the shape of urban growth areas, or UGAs, but their size is restricted based on projected growth. Wright’s Crossing asked the county to include a proposed expansion of the area in the county’s annual planning docket, the first step to drawing new UGA lines.
The problem was that the county had just completed a buildable lands analysis that determined the UGAs were already big enough to accommodate growth. But Wright’s Crossing argued that the analysis didn’t take into account the projected growth in personnel at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island or civilian jobs.
Nonetheless, the planning staff and the planning commission recommended that the project be excluded from the docket.
The commissioners agreed, saying that the project conflicted with several comprehensive plan goals — though it complied with goals regarding housing — and represented an intensive amount of work that was ultimately unwarranted.
Wright’s Crossing appealed to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. Whidbey Environmental Action Network intervened on the county’s side in order to counter perceived urban sprawl and the loss of farmland.
The hearing board ruled on the county’s side and dismissed the case. Wright’s Crossing filed a request for reconsideration but was denied.
Wright’s Crossing next appealed to Skagit County Superior Court, but a judge threw the case out because the court didn’t have jurisdiction.
The LLC re-filed an appeal in Thurston County Superior Court, where the judge ruled in the county’s favor.
Wright’s Crossing then sought relief with the state Court of Appeals.
In its decision, the Appeals Court found that, based on state law and county code as a whole, docketing decisions are discretionary, even though Wright’s Crossing pointed out that county code says proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan “shall” be placed on the docket.
The Appeals Court stated it agreed with WEAN in that the hearings board was required to dismiss the appeal since no duty to docket exists.
“You can’t get more shortsighted than putting a city on farmland,” Steve Erickson of WEAN said. “This developer is doing a major development where it belongs, inside of Oak Harbor.
“He knows where this sort of development should go,” Erickson said Maybe now he’ll just leave that farmland alone.”