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Business owners suing to stop affordable housing project in Oak Harbor

Opponents of the proposed development by the Low Income Housing Institute say the downtown core needs more businesses, not apartments.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. — Business owners in Oak Harbor, a city in Island County, are suing the city over a proposed affordable housing project, saying the city needs more retail rather than apartments in that location.

Island County needs about 3,700 units of affordable housing to meet the demand and keep its significant homeless problem from getting worse. 

"For every one person you’re able to assist there's another who has just fallen off the ladder into homelessness," said local housing advocate George Saul.

Saul believes part of the solution is a 50 unit Low Income Housing Institute development along Pioneer Way in the Oak Harbor's historic downtown.

Half of the apartments would house disabled veterans in the Navy town, and there would be some retail, as well. 

Saul believes it’s a win-win.

"Well developed affordable housing projects can lead to reinvestment and revitalization of a downtown corridor," he said.

The project has been approved by the Oak Harbor Planning Department, City Council, and a hearing examiner, but businessman Dan Evans believes it’s bad for downtown.

Also See: Island County cuts $100,000 grant to Spin Café homeless center in Oak Harbor

"The issue we have is this is a downtown district," Evans said. "It’s a business district."

Evans said the 40,000 square foot building would only have 1,000 square feet of retail space, hardly any, and downtown desperately needs more.

He and Oak Harbor’s Main Street Association are suing the city to stop the development.

"The low-income housing, we need it. We need it badly," said Evans. "But this is just not the place for an apartment building. Whether they were million-dollar condos or affordable housing, it makes no difference. The problem is we have no commercial real estate on that main floor."

"Instead of property that has been vacant for many years, our building, because of its high-quality design, is expected to increase property values," said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute. “We will be making an investment of over $10 million in downtown Oak Harbor, where Oak Harbor residents will live, shop and patronize the retail businesses."

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George Saul said there hasn't been a new development in downtown Oak Harbor in more than 20 years. He doesn't understand why affordable housing and downtown business can't exist side by side. 

"Affordable housing is workforce housing," Saul said. "People work during the day. The rent is indexed to their income. Consequently, they have more discretionary income to spend in the business district."

The matter is expected to be heard in court early next year.