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Mormon church gets green light to develop south-end camp

Vashon’s Mormon church has received preliminary approval from King County to move forward with its plans to develop a teen girls camp at its 100-acre property on the southern tip of the Island.

In a letter dated Nov. 21, the county’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (previously known as the Department of Development and Environmental Services) issued a conditional use permit to the Vashon church, noting the organization had met a number of concerns raised by neighboring residents as well as issues that came up during a state-mandated environmental review.

As a result, according to the letter, the project “does not pose a probable significant adverse impact to the environment.”

James Copitzky, president of the church, known officially as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), said he was thrilled by the news.

“We’ve been working on this for years. It’s a prayer answered,” he said.

But the organization still has one significant hurdle to overcome before it can move forward on its plans. According to the county, it now needs to clean up much of the soil on the site, believed to be contaminated by the Asarco smelter plume — a remediation project that could take several months and cost $2 million, said Jonathon Katz, a regional LDS director who oversees camp development.

Katz said the church hopes it can tap into the state Department of Ecology’s Tacoma Smelter Plume project — a $64 million effort to clean up residential areas affected by the copper smelter’s arsenic-laden plume decades ago.

“We’re kind of like a flagship (for the state’s remediation program),” Katz said.

Copitzky agreed. “We definitely want to participate in the state’s cleanup program,” he said.

The Vashon project is considerably smaller than the one the church proposed more than a decade ago, when it announced plans to build several cabins and a new lodge on property donated to the church in 1997.

The proposal triggered concerns among neighbors of the waterfront property, some of whom worried about the impact it could have on traffic, noise and the neighborhood’s limited water supply.

The project has since been scaled back, said Katz. It would entail only one new building — a restroom and shower facility. Campers — mostly girls, though families would congregate there on weekends — would sleep in large tents on elevated platforms or use other buildings already on the site. At capacity, there would be no more than 234 people on the site, and most often, there would be around 150 youth and 20 adults, according to county documents.

Also included in the proposal is the construction of a water tower that would ensure an adequate amount of water for campers during dry summer months as well as for neighbors in the case of a fire, Katz said.

Both Katz and Copitzky said the organization is several months away from moving forward on the project. Soil remediation work likely won’t begin until sometime next year, with camp development possibly later in 2014 or early 2015.

Still, they said, they believe the project — which has been stalled for more than a decade — is poised to move forward, now that the church has a conditional use permit in hand.

“It’s been 11 years and almost a million dollars so far to get to this point,” said Katz. “I’m excited that after 11 years, we can now move forward with remediation.”

 

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