FORT COLUMBIA - Official presenters nearly outnumbered local citizens and property owners at the dune consortium meetings at Fort Columbia Monday afternoon and evening. Though the information exchange was polite, issues were hotly contested and strong emotions were evident.
At stake is the future of the largely undeveloped Seaview dunes. The area in question is a long interior rectangle roughly west of K place and east of the 1968 Shoreline Conservation boundary.
The official description, beginning on the northern boundary and proceeding clockwise around the four directions, is Long Beach on the north, about 51 Place; the Urban Growth Boundary on the east, 200 feet west of the 1889 boundary; Ilwaco on the south; and, on the west, the Western Pacific County Shoreline Master Plan Boundary Setback Line which is roughly 200 feet east of the 1968 Shoreline Conservation line.
Within this area of demarcation are 60 to 70 developable home sites under existing permitting policy, according to Pacific County Director of Community Development, Mike DeSimone.
Because of the local controversy caused by the Matthew Doney project - construction of four homes and replatting of 38 acres in the dune area - the Pacific County Commissioners enacted a six-month moratorium on the issuance of building permits in the Seaview dunes, Ordinance 157.
According to Pacific County Attorney, David Burke, "three development projects were already 'vested,' that is registered with the county for permitting, and these projects are therefore exempted from the moratorium - the Phelps, Schafer and the Doney projects."
However, Burke also indicated that the Doney project was in appeal and because building sites had not been previously specified on their replatting request, permits for the homes might still need to be issued, which, he admitted, could be a contentious process.
Burke emphasized that he and others were still reviewing the law in this case.
The purpose of the moratorium is to allow local residents, property owners, and other concerned citizens to discuss development issues and, if possible, to come up with a compromise policy.
Long-time Peninsula resident, Kay Mulvey Cowan, expressed the view of many Seaview homeowners, "This kind of development breaks my heart. We have worked so hard over the years to keep our dunes, and then some outsider comes in with a different agenda."
Most in attendance agreed with the stated objective of the State Parks Technical Team, which, according to Daniel Farber, State Parks Planner "is to move development from this designated dune area to other sites to the east, and, at the same time, keep owners whole in terms of property value."
Farber indicated that this could be done in several ways, by direct property exchange or by more innovative mechanisms such as the purchase or transfer of "development rights." As Farber stated, "This is a market-based process in which owners of properties located within a designated area can sell the development potential of their property to owners of property in areas more suited to development."
Local resident and State Parks Commissioner Bob Peterson spoke about this program's success on Whidbey Island where farmers have sold their development rights in a process utilizing Conservation Easements in order to preserve their farmlands. "The public is a great beneficiary of the resulting open space," said Peterson.
Similar programs are being successfully implemented in King, Whatcom and Thurston counties.
The benefit of this type of "value exchange" is that no outside funds are needed. Once the administrative details are established, the private marketplace takes care of establishing the value of development rights and in providing the vehicle for buyers and sellers to find one another.
In the course of this discussion, issues were raised about the value of undeveloped land, who decides the value, and who the decision-makers in the policy process should be. Interested parties include property owners - both residents and absentees - other Peninsula homeowners as well as residents who may not own property - and visitors to the Peninsula.
DeSimone indicated that for future meetings a mailing would go out to property owners within the designated Seaview dune area west of K Place.
But there are other interested parties that Harmony Frazier, a Seaview homeowner to the east of the designated area, spoke for when she said, "The Peninsula needs to be looked at as a whole - there are places where the dunes should be preserved for everyone on the Peninsula."
Tracy Fleming, a local resident and wildlife research scientist, offered yet another point of view.
"Why are we only looking at the value of developed land?" he asked. "There is a real lack of understanding about the worth of open space to the general public and for what it brings to an area economically. Our Peninsula is a flyway for many species of migrating birds and that attracts birders from all over the nation."
Fleming cited a study done in the Yakima Valley area that indicated one sage grouse was worth $800 to the local economy based on expenditures from visiting hunters and bird watchers.
Other Seaview residents could not put aside their strong feelings of betrayal. Some Seaview dune property donated to the State Parks in Deeds of Dedication has been condemned by the city of Long Beach for the Discovery Trail.
Although DeSimone pointed out that "the trail is a great way to get the public out into the dunes to appreciate their unique ecology," to some, a trail made up of miles of blacktop ten feet across does not constitute keeping the dunes in a "natural state" as specified in the deeds.
This land use situation, like dunes development, has gone to the courts for resolution.
Other meeting participants were concerned about the involvement of local county commissioners and possible vested interest in the permitting and development process.
Farber stated that they realize it is incumbent on the Technical Team to demonstrate a sense of permanence for whatever policy might be agreed to. He indicated that if a compromise can be reached, any new policy would be implemented by accompanying changes in other supporting documents - zoning ordinances, the comprehensive plan and the shoreline master program - which would be very difficult to change.
Bryan Harrison, Pacific County administrative officer, has the vision of creating a compromise that will stabilize development policy in the community's best interests and take it out of the courts.
This moratorium process of public input and discussion was continued to the next meeting, to take place sometime in mid-October. For further information contact Pacific County Department of Community Development at 642-9387.