An Unbroken Historical Record: Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
Administrative History
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Chapter Five:

After passage of the reserve's legislation in November 1978, the next two years were vital in the development of the reserve. By the close of 1980, the Smith farm had new owners, and EBLA had a comprehensive plan. But these changes required patience and cooperation. The reserve concept was relatively new, and the guardians of EBLA often had to improvise during the planning phase. Some employees at the National Park Service regional office in Seattle had little knowledge of the new reserve and were even surprised by the legislation. "Park Service in the Dark," the Everett Herald announced, somewhat to NPS embarrassment. Spokesman Gale Brammer admitted that "we really don't have a good idea of how we will manage" Ebey's Landing. Neither, entirely, did the citizens of Whidbey Island. [1]

Getting Started

In the weeks after the legislation passed, the town of Coupeville and Island County sought ways to fund the planning process and prepared an interlocal agreement to establish a citizens' planning committee for the new reserve. They understood that a successful reserve required consensus and full citizen participation in an open planning process. It was important that the local citizenry perceive the reserve as a locally initiated effort. The people who lived and worked in the area, everyone quickly agreed, should create the comprehensive plan for EBLA (to use its NPS acronym). The Island County planning director Sydney Glover and county commissioner Lou Romeo also gathered representatives from the NPS and interested local citizens to discuss how to proceed. [2]

Meanwhile, the NPS in Seattle assembled a multi-disciplinary task force to determine the steps required to complete the plan. [3] Richard Sims of the regional office's planning and compliance division headed the team. To local planners it was apparent that the NPS team was unfamiliar with planning principles or state requirements for comprehensive plans. However, Reed Jarvis, an NPS veteran with ten years' planning experience and at the time assistant superintendent of Olympic National Park, joined a short time later. He not only provided park planning expertise; he also personally represented the Park Service at the reserve, staying on as project manager after the task force had complete its work. Well aware that the reserve was breaking new ground in NPS planning, Jarvis was immediately fascinated with the project. He formed a close working relationship with Coupeville planner Carol Delahanty and Island County assistant director of planning Leonard Madsen. They agreed that Jarvis would assist a citizens' group in creating a conceptual plan, while he simultaneously completed a comprehensive plan based on the committee's decisions. By February 1979, the NPS task force had completed a task directive for the project. It recommended three additional planning phases: surveying and evaluating all historical and natural resources; analyzing and weighing planning alternatives; and preparing the comprehensive plan. Information on historical and natural resources was available, although further studies would be commissioned later. The planners drew upon the Huxley Report, an environmental study of central Whidbey Island, prepared by a Western Washington State College environmental planning class. The report gave the team a resource data base and it discussed protection of important visual areas within the reserve. The rest of the task directive had to be accomplished within the eighteen months allotted by the legislation. [4]

The Citizens Advisory Committee

In February 1979 the Island County Board of Commissioners and Jack McPherson, who was now the mayor of Coupeville, [5] jointly appointed a twelve-member citizens' planning committee. It was the first of its kind in the nation. The committee represented a variety of citizens affected by the creation of the reserve. Renee Smith (of Ebey's Prairie), Len Engle and Freeman Boyer all joined to represent the farmers of central Whidbey Island. John Wardenaar, an Oak Harbor farmer, would represent a countywide perspective. The committee included people who had been actively involved in movements to protect the natural and historical landscape, such as Jimmie Jean Cook (historian) and Albert Heath (artist). Other members were Herb Pickard (businessman), Robert Jackson (realtor), George Morris (artist), Stanley Willhight (jeweler), Roger Eelkema (businessman), and Ron Van Dyk (businessman). All but Wardenaar lived within the reserve. Reed Jarvis and the citizens' committee went to work in a conference room in the Coupeville hospital.

Herb Pickard chaired the committee. Pickard was an active civic volunteer. As a long-time resident, banker, and the second-generation owner of Coupeville's only general store, Pickard knew everyone in town. Locals respected him as a true community leader. His job, he believed, was to mold the reserve into something that all local citizens could accept. "We did not want this to become a park," Pickard commented. "We were quite adamant about that. We wanted to retain the integrity of the area and have it continue as it is and was since the mid-1850s." He and the committee also realized that they must adjust to the presence of an unfamiliar bureaucracy. In a sense, Pickard believed, the committee had "two masters": its local constituency and the National Park Service. But it was important to the committee to ensure community control of the reserve. "We didn't want the National Park Service or any agency to be running the show in our particular area," Pickard stated. 'There was a very strong feeling that the National Park Service would eventually end up . . . managing [the reserve] and they would be quite overpowering because of their experience or capability, their knowledge of how to do these things. . . . The first thing I told Reed Jarvis was to get out of that monkey suit [the NPS uniform]! You scare 'em when you walk down the road! Come up here looking like a civilian.... We got along great after that." To Pickard's relief, Reed Jarvis quickly reassured him that his role was to facilitate park planning and land acquisitions, and he would remain as much as possible in an advisory capacity. [6]

Nonetheless, local planners, Jarvis, and NPS lands acquisition specialist Harlan Hobbs played a central role within EBLA. A few former committee members today retain the suspicion that they were there for a mere show of citizen participation, to rubber-stamp what the planning experts prepared. Yet everyone acknowledged that they relied heavily upon NPS and local planning expertise; in fact, the Island County planning department received the Planning Achievement Award of the Planning Association of Washington in 1981 for guiding the formation of Ebey's Landing NHR. Most of the committee believed that their views were incorporated into the final document, and that citizen participation was what made the reserve concept palatable to the local community. Herb Pickard's firm leadership, advisory committee members said, Reed Jarvis' flair for public relations, and the diversity of viewpoints among committee members produced a fair and balanced plan.

Learning how to operate in conjunction with a federal agency came gradually; the immediate task was to gain consensus among themselves. As a historic district, EBLA already had some procedures for local review in place. The comprehensive plans for Coupeville and Island County would provide planning policy and suggest general patterns of land use. But with no precedents to follow, developing a conceptual plan for the reserve would be challenging. The language of the legislation was general, and no detailed NPS guidelines existed that explained how to plan or manage a reserve. (Nor could NPS provide money for additional planning staff.) The committee also had the difficult task of reconciling widely divergent views regarding land management within the community. Objectives needed to be broad enough to satisfy everyone without jeopardizing the historic and rural character of the landscape. Because all meetings for the conceptual plan took place in public, they provided a forum for the local citizenry. Although attendance by the wider community was at times rather sparse, public commentary helped establish land protection priorities. The open nature of the planning process forced the committee to analyze its solutions carefully. This proved advantageous in future public hearings but could also mire it in lengthy and sometimes antagonistic debates. Developing the conceptual plan would take several months. [7]

The Conceptual Plan

The committee began its deliberations by dividing into three working groups. Local planners--Rob Harbour, Len Madsen, or Carol Delahanty--sat on each committee at various times. The groups were devoted to identifying three categories of use areas as specified in the legislation: public use and development, historic and natural preservation, and private use subject to appropriate local ordinances. The committee easily outlined natural areas; less easy to agree upon were the trade-offs necessary in conflicting overlays, where a natural area might also be historic and contain private use as well. [8] After it prepared a map of the reserve with the types of land use indicated, it selected five "visual" or scenic areas of critical importance: Ebey's Prairie, the coastal strip, Keystone Spit, Crockett Lake and uplands, and Grasser's Hill and Lagoon. Three secondary visual areas, Smith Prairie, Coupeville, and the Fort Casey Uplands, completed the list. "We 'dropped a rock' at Ebey's Landing," said Len Engle, "and the ripple effect going away from it was how we developed the initial concept of what to preserve." NPS acquisition of scenic easements from private property owners would be concentrated in the most visually sensitive and vulnerable locations. [9]

Having identified the significant areas of the cultural landscape, the group focused on natural and historical landmarks within each area. It identified the specific components of the visual area and then, after debating and finally voting, ranked each element in order of significance and urgency. Len Engle pointed out that the major landowners in the reserve averaged nearly sixty in age, and he urged the committee to consider farmlands that were particularly vulnerable to sale. By the end of May 1979, the committee had selected eighteen areas--what one member called the "heartwood" of the reserve--as its highest priorities. [10] These priorities were:

  1. Ebey's Landing/Perego's Bluff and Perego's Lake/Hill Road
  2. Ebey's Prairie and Valley Sides
  3. Town of Coupeville
  4. Fort Casey/Keystone Spit/Camp Casey Campus
  5. Monroe's Landing
  6. Crockett Prairie
  7. Jacob Ebey Uplands and Ridge
  8. Scenic Highway Routes
  9. Grasser' s Hill
  10. Fort Ebey/Point Partridge
  11. Grasser' s Lagoon
  12. Crockett Uplands
  13. San de Fuca/ West Beach Uplands
  14. Fort Casey Uplands
  15. Kettleholes
  16. Blowers Bluff and Uplands
  17. Smith Prairie

Initially considered, for the sake of completeness, but later removed from the list were Penn Cove Park, Surf N' Sands, and Libbey Road/Sierra. These were voted down as being too residentially developed. [11]

The committee was motivated by a general desire to maintain a working community; it was therefore reluctant to encourage recreation in the manner of a traditional "park" in EBLA, particularly since the bulk of the landscape remained in private hands. It sought to reassure landowners that their privacy would be protected and that visitors would not disturb farm operations. No one wanted the community to be overwhelmed or otherwise intruded upon by inappropriate activities or excessive crowds. With the exception of public beaches and the permissible use of roads and trails, the committee selected the eighteen sites as places for low-key tourism and mostly passive appreciation of the landscape.

On the southern side of Penn Cove, the coastal strip including Ebey's Landing topped the list, followed closely by Ebey's Prairie, which was on the brink of development. Here, especially, the conceptual plan reflected compromise among committee members and the growing pressure from the Smith farm owners to develop their land. The conceptual plan permitted cluster development on the edges of the prairie, away from the prime agricultural lands. (Meanwhile, however, the NPS was attempting to limit such developments in negotiations with the Smith family and Bud Wagner. See Chapter Six.)

In addition, the plan agreed to limited recreational development on Keystone Spit, and did not rule out private development there. The conceptual plan recognized Coupeville as the urban nucleus of the reserve and acknowledged its unique historic atmosphere; the reserve needed a central point to which people could gravitate, and Coupeville was the logical spot. Generally, management of the scenic highways was not an issue, because the committee members felt that the county and state would handle highway maintenance. The NPS would provide scenic pullouts and interpretive signs. [12]

Lands on the north side of Penn Cove were more controversial, and the kettleholes, Grasser's Hill, Monroe's Landing, and Blower's Bluff stimulated lengthy debate. To some committee members, these areas seemed remote from Ebey's Prairie and the original purpose of the reserve. But the committee agreed that the usual tour of the area included a circuit around Penn Cove; both Monroe's Landing and Blower's Bluff gave people a different visual perspective of Coupeville and the cove. These areas were clearly part of the historical landscape. Monroe's Landing, in particular, had once supported an Indian settlement and also offered a rare swimming beach on Penn Cove. The committee recognized that some spots were probably in safe hands for the time being. Monroe's Landing was a county road end, with private land to the east, and had become de facto a public swimming beach. (Island County later planned to purchase Monroe's Landing Spit in 1995.) [13] Blower's Bluff, a broad, green open space at the eastern edge of Penn Cove, was a stable and financially secure dairy farm. While it would make the preservation list, it would be a low priority. The kettleholes on the western end of the cove formed a unique, glacially-formed geological feature situated in scenic open space. If one wanted to take the long view, Island County Assistant Planning Director Len Madsen quipped, here was a historical landscape 13,000 years old. [14]

The conceptual plan noted that, aside from the purchase of conservation easements, the federal government would rely upon local zoning ordinances to preserve the character of the landscape. Cluster zoning would help protect open spaces by concentrating development in areas already developed or platted. The Coupeville Historic Review Board and the Central Whidbey Island Historic Advisory Committee would continue to review historic design, permits, and rezone requests. Scenic and interpretive pullouts would be provided in key areas, and the trail along the west shore of the island extended north and south and maintained. Maintenance and operation of the reserve was to be the responsibility of the appropriate local and state agencies, with grants from the NPS of up to fifty percent of operational costs, as called for in the enabling legislation.

Out of concern for local control, the committee recommended that the reserve be managed by a trust board, consisting of ten representatives selected by Coupeville, Island County, Washington State, and the National Park Service (this was later reduced to nine members when the representative from the state Department of Natural Resources Economic Division was dropped). [15] In part, the trust board idea was intended to resolve two seemingly contradictory points of view: the county's, which wanted to maintain strong local control, and the Park Service's, which had a mandate to maintain oversight. [16] The trust board would function as an advisory board to the governmental partners, and as an arm of county government. Once Para. (c) of Sec. 508 of P.L. 95-625 had been satisfied ("At such time as . . . local government . . . [has] enacted such zoning ordinances or other land use controls which . . . will protect and preserve the historic and natural features of the area in accordance with the comprehensive plan . . ."), the NPS was to convey full management responsibilities to this trust board. At that point the NPS representative would cease to be a project manager, leaving day-to-day operations to the reserve trust board.

Ebey's Landing Suddenly Expands

In the process of evaluating the EBLA landscape, the committee made one assumption that considerably expanded the size of the reserve, at least on paper. Jimmie Jean Cook's 1972 historic district nomination referred only to eight thousand acres surrounding Penn Cove, as did P. L. 95-625 (Congress had mentioned no specific boundaries). But this figure was incorrect. h fact, the land totalled 13,100 acres, and if Penn Cove itself were included, the reserve spanned 17,400 acres. The committee decided to define the cultural landscape in its entirety. It informally extended the boundary line of EBLA across the mouth of Penn Cove, from Snakelum Point to Blower's Bluff. Recognizing Penn Cove as an integral part of the cultural landscape would later have implications for shoreline developments. [17]

Conceptual Plan Completed

At the request of the Island County Planning Department, local historian Kristin Ravetz drafted an environmental impact statement evaluating the plan under SEPA guidelines. By the New Year, 1980, the citizens' conceptual plan was ready for adoption by the Island County Board of Commissioners. In public hearings, some local farmers worried that selling development rights was not "fair to the kids," but a consensus emerged that such sales were a far better way to preserve farmlands than zoning, which Freeman Boyer likened to "stealing." [18] Of primary concern to other participants was the limited development the plan permitted on Ebey's Prairie and Keystone Spit, which they had hoped to eliminate altogether. Of all the committee members, only Renee Smith was unhappy with the planning document. Despite repeated reassurances from Reed Jarvis, Smith felt that the government would force landowners to sell "for a song," and she resented the NPS request for a moratorium on development in the prairie (discussed in Chapter Six). But the majority of the committee accepted the document. Having done its work, it turned the next phase over to the local and federal planners and disbanded. [19]

Comprehensive Plan

The National Park Service now had four months to complete a comprehensive plan in order to meet the eighteen-month deadline specified by Congress. The job was relatively straightforward at this point, requiring only the selection of the best strategies within existing laws, regulations and policies to complement the work of the citizens advisory committee. Because acquisition of land or land rights would be on a willing seller/willing buyer basis, the plan named no specific private lands for acquisition--with one exception. It noted the centrality of the Smith Farm to the reserve, admitting that the reserve would be severely compromised without it. The plan also estimated that 150-200 acres of land for wayside exhibits would be purchased in fee simple, along with another 2000 to 2500 critical acres in a combination of fee simple and scenic easements. As clearly stated in EBLA's enabling legislation, no lands would be acquired through condemnation. [20]

The plan listed the governmental agencies to be involved, to varying degrees, in reserve matters. [21] Island County and the town of Coupeville agreed to prepare ordinances and controls to protect the integrity of the reserve, and to adopt the Ebey's Landing document as an element of their comprehensive planning process. The EBLA comprehensive plan reiterated that the bulk of responsibility fell to local governments to provide fire and police protection, roadside maintenance, land-use planning, enforcement of zoning ordinances, and sanitation. The EBLA trust board had responsibility to set matters of policy, but the comprehensive plan acknowledged that the transfer of full responsibility would be gradual. This in fact was the case; the trust board officially assumed its permanent management role in 1988. On May 19, 1980, the Island County Board of Commissioners endorsed the plan.

Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, who received the finished EBLA plan a month ahead of the deadline, sent it to Congress by July 1980. Once Congress approved the plan, it could appropriate the $5 million budget, and the NPS could begin implementing land acquisition.

But the appropriation had been dropped from the 1981 congressional budget. Once again, postponed funding was a source of tremendous strain as the Smith Farm verged on development.

County Zoning, County Comprehensive Plan

Before discussing the major acquisitions of scenic easements and development rights in Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, it is important to discuss the Island County planning process and changes in the county's zoning ordinances during the 1970s and 1980s. Washington State enables such planning and zoning through RCW 36.70. No such mechanism was available to the National Park Service, which relied upon Island County to adopt effective, compatible planning objectives. The reserve's enabling legislation specifically stated that an important element of land preservation in the reserve would be local planning and zoning that complemented the EBLA comprehensive plan. Management of the reserve could not be turned over to local control by the NPS until protective ordinances were in place. Of course, many people in central Whidbey Island viewed the reserve as an opportunity to complement and effect county planning objectives. [22]

In 1972, the Island County Board of Commissioners had authorized a budget to develop a comprehensive plan and a permanent zoning ordinance. The planning department solicited citizen participation in this process, and by August 1977 adopted a comprehensive plan recognizing the Central Whidbey Island Historic District as a special planning concern. The plan stated that the historic district presented "unique opportunities for preservation.., within particularly critical or sensitive areas of the district." The legislation of EBLA one year later provided a means for the community to realize its objectives. [23]

Another major step toward the community's goals came in 1984, when the ordinances and standards covering land use in Island County were revised. The county altered its comprehensive plan and developed a new zoning ordinance for short plats, planned residential developments and site plan reviews. It approved a land use review ordinance covering development permit applications, and created a hearing examiner system. While not actually a regulatory document, the Island County comprehensive plan constituted the policy that guided the development of ordinances and administrative, quasi-judicial and legislative decisions regarding land use in the county. The plan stressed the maintenance of Island County's rural character through the preservation of open space, encouraging the continued existence of agricultural and rural uses and guiding residential and commercial growth into or around existing clusters of similar development. [24]

The new zoning ordinance was applicable to the reserve in a number of ways. The ordinance tried to identify and protect the most important "resource lands" such as agricultural and forestry lands, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and recharge areas (places that collect and absorb or retain rainwater). It provided for retention of scenic corridors, which allowed the county to consider and protect those areas deemed to have visual value. It emphasized clustered development rather than traditional large-lot development. By providing incentives in the form of density bonuses, the county could preserve the rural feeling of the area and protect wetlands, forests, and agricultural land. Many people felt that this method was preferable to aggressive pursuit of lower development densities. It would divert development pressure from sensitive lands to more suitable land. The concept of "clustering" included concentrating development within an individual parcel as well as on the larger, island-wide scale. An important tool on the smaller scale was the transfer of development rights (TDR). [25] It permitted a landowner within resource lands as described above to sell his/her development rights to owners of less sensitive residential lands. The hoped-for result was that such resource lands would remain protected, while residential lands were developed at a higher density than would otherwise have been allowed. Although the county had ultimate approval, the program permitted private negotiations between landowners. A developer could negotiate with other landowners for their development rights and dramatically increase the density of his/her planned or proposed development. Such zoning provisions offered opportunities to land trusts and other land stewards to liquidate development rights on eligible farms and forest lands in exchange for conservation easements to protect these lands from further development. [26]

A brief discussion of platting may also be useful. The two types of land subdivision typically used by private landowners in Island County were called the long plat and the short plat. A long plat or subdivision referred to the creation of five or more lots. The standards for development of a long plat required fairly wide, paved roads, a water system, and drainage facilities. It also required public hearings. [27] The short plat system was the most widely used method of lot creation. It was an administrative process for creating four or fewer parcels; it did not require the same level of planning for utilities or roads, and usually required no public hearing. An unlimited number of lots could be created by filing contiguous four-lot short plats. [28]

As Island County rewrote its land use policies, the NPS was preparing a list of landowners with whom it would attempt to negotiate for scenic easements in Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. This was to absorb the attention of Harlan Hobbs and Reed Jarvis for a number of years.

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000