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Friday, August 29, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Growth board nixes plans to expand Camp Casey

Seattle Times staff reporter

Plans to vastly expand Camp Casey on Whidbey Island have been halted, raising doubts about its future operations as a soccer camp and youth retreat.

Yesterday's ruling by a regional board was a setback for the owner and operator of the camp, Seattle Pacific University. The school wants to add to the camp's barracks-style facilities by building fancier quarters that would attract adults and bring in new money, keeping the operation in the black.

The plans were opposed by conservationists, who contended that cutting up to five acres of trees to make way for construction would create a wind-tunnel effect and threaten the forest around the 80-acre camp, on the shores of Admiralty Inlet.

University officials say that without an expansion, the camp's long-term economic viability is not assured.

"Our ability to be the good steward of this property that we have been in the past depends on Casey being able to support itself," said Darrell Hines, Seattle Pacific's associate vice president of business and facilities services.

The university has a month to decide whether to appeal.

Yesterday's ruling by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board revoked a special zoning designation granted by Island County last December that would have allowed Seattle Pacific to build 50 cabins, six lodges, a large chapel and a two-lane road, and add as many as 240 parking spaces.

Marianne Edain, treasurer of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group that successfully challenged the zoning designation, said she hopes the board's ruling will inspire Seattle Pacific to consider options for generating revenue that fall short of a major expansion. She suggested a campaign to raise money from Casey alumni.

"Given the thousands of kids who have gone through the Casey soccer camp, there is a very big pool of people who have some very fond memories of the place," she said. "This is why they have endowments."

She also said the university has failed to consider smaller-scale expansions that would not require the clearing of forest. Hines said the university will continue to explore alternatives, but few it has considered seem realistic.

"We believed the plan we proposed was best for balancing the needs of the island, the environment and the university," he said.

The three-member hearings board disagreed, saying the scale and intensity of the proposed expansion constituted urban growth and therefore did not fit within the special rural-zoning designation granted by the county.

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said any decision to pursue a Camp Casey expansion rests with Seattle Pacific, but that the commissioners "will certainly do everything we can to encourage continued ownership of that property by Seattle Pacific. The university has been a wonderful steward of that very sensitive and valuable piece of property."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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