The PT Leader asked if I wanted to come to a meeting with Garth Mann, the head of Statesman Group, which has been attempting to build the Black Point development in Brinnon over the last decade. Some of you might wonder if putting a developer in close proximity with an ‘environmentalist’ might cause some kind of bad chemical reaction they could document, but actually it was a pleasant day. For those of you unfamiliar with the project, Black Point is the controversial resort and golf course being planned for a beautiful promontory that sticks out into Hood Canal south of Brinnon. The location, which includes the picturesque Pleasant Harbor Marina, also makes up the north shore of the Duckabush estuary. You can see the forested area to the bottom right of the point, which is where the golf course and luxury resort is planned. Other parts of the resort will include a make over of the Pleasant Harbor Marina, (upper center).
Satellite photo by Google Earth
Mr. Mann is what I expected, a developer that got to the top of his field by being professional, calm, and very articulate. He is passionate about his project, as he should be. As many Canadians are, he’s amicable without giving off the air of a hard pitch salesman which so many American resort developers seem to do. While others around him had harsh words for county officials and those who would question the environmental qualities of the project, Mr. Mann was very polite in explaining to the crowd of 10 or so, that Washington State and this location makes it very hard to get a project like this completed.
I asked him about the Shoreline Master Program, which some of his folks, prior to his arrival, had said had that had caused an enormous amount of problems to the project. Many of the supporters of this development actively opposed the SMP changes, which were developed over a four year process, and include 150′ buffers from the shoreline. From his people, you would have assumed that the project was on the ropes *because* of the SMP. But it was clear from Mr. Mann that nothing of the sort was happening, and that in fact, it only affected a small part of his project plan.
“We have already planned on establishing a
240′ 200′ (according to a correction sent in by the developer)setback from the shore of the point” (which you can see in the bottom right of the photo), he said.
“Additionally, we have planned state of the art environmental technology for the project” which he went on to list, along with the fact that the project is going to be Platinum LEED (for low impact development). They plan to catch Hwy 101 water run off, mix it into their sewage treatment system at the marina, pump it all uphill to the main waste water treatment system for the resort, and reuse the water on the golf course. They also plan to use the water that will be stored in the lake being created out of the glacial moraine on the site, to help heat and cool the buildings. There are many more very advanced ideas being planned for the development. He is very proud of this, and frankly, I wish that all developers were willing to be so forward thinking. Yes, they have, on paper, a plan to be as environmentally friendly as possible. That is all very good news.
When asked about what changes the new SMP (which is not yet approved by Ecology) will have on the project, Garth said, ” Not much. We had to change the marina project, which is going to be the first phase. We had plans to demolish the buildings in the marina, and replace them with a multistory building that would have shops on the first floor, and condos above it. (to see an artists’ rendition of what was planned at the harbor, go to the Statesman group website http://statesmancorporation.com/main/index.php?id=resorts&content=pleasant) That can’t happen now, but our plans are to move the condos up the hill alongside Hwy 101, and simply remodel the existing shops on their footprint.” The SMP would allow for some buildings that are housing water dependent businesses to continue, but new condos would not fit that criteria.
It is important to note, that there has been a great deal of misinformation fomented about the SMP, and here again, we find that the stories that people have been saying to the public about how much economic damage the SMP has and will have, are not in line with reality on the ground. Mr. Mann’s project will be hardly affected at all by the new SMP. He has relatively easily worked around the newer regulations and implemented a new design that will work for him, and help protect the shore.
Mr. Mann went on to say that funding is his biggest problem. He had hoped to create a rural regional version of the US Government program that allows foreign nationals, such as Chinese and India citizens apply for green cards to come to the US if it helps create jobs, if they bring funding with them, but this unusual approach was turned down recently. He stated that he had also turned down an offer by a Chinese company to buy all the timeshare units, which would have essentially turned the project into a retreat for the Chinese. There was no independent information offered to prove that claim. But it would not likely have been popular in Jefferson County.
To see how hard it will be for Mr. Mann to sell these approx. 240 housing properties, we only have to look north a short ways to Port Ludlow, a similar Master Planned Community with a golf course and resort. Port Ludlow currently has 73 houses for sale, with a median (not average) time on the market of 281 days. The 37 homes that did sell in the last year, took over 370 days to sell. So you could say that Port Ludlow has a two year inventory to sell. Clearly, it is going to be extremely hard to find buyers with financing in this market.
So the real problem is not environmental regulations, or the SMP, as some would have you believe. It is the incredibly deep economic downturn, and a lack of bank funding for projects like this one. The New York Times ran a story last summer about failures across the country by high profile developers. Projects sitting empty, partially completed, and/or abandoned. Counties and taxpayers forced to deal with the left over developments, never completed.
Recently, People For Puget Sound, wrote a letter in opposition to Black Point. The letter was based on the assumption that county officials have already expressed their approval of this project going forward. It is likely that Mr. Mann, may yet see his project completed. And if he does, it is likely to bring best environmental practices to bear. However, it is important to not end up with a project that destroys the environment with the best of intentions of creating something good, and due to the economic climate, leaves the taxpayers of the county with a destroyed landscape that may never recover it’s value, either financially or environmentally. People For Puget Sound, asked the county to impose strict bonding of the various phases of development, so that if something goes wrong, Jefferson county taxpayers won’t be the ones footing the bill to rehab the land. The Statesman Group has a number of other projects under way, in Las Vegas, Disney Land, Banff, etc. Mr. Mann alluded to the fact that none of these projects are apparently completed. When asked specifically how many sites could someone go to if they signed up for the timeshare program he is selling, he said “by the end of 2011, four”. (editor’s note: Mr. Mann mentioned a total of six projects: Banff, Las Vegas, Orlando, Arizona, Hawaii and Pleasant Harbor). In looking at their web site, there are only three listed, and one cannot tell which are completed, which are planned and which are underway. The Black Point project would be thought to be completed by looking at their web site. The reality is that it’s years from completion with nothing currently built. That should be of great concern to anyone hoping for the best outcome on this project. While marketing is all about helping fuel dreams, it certainly can be considered a bit deceptive to be promoting something that isn’t built yet as being completed.
There are many other issues that “The Brinnon Group”, the formal opposition to Black Point, have brought up, and are beyond the scope of this article. If the reader is interested in looking into these other concerns, we point you to their web site, http://www.brinnongroup.org/
It is certainly true that south Jefferson County could use economic help. It is disappointing that our elected officials have not been able to do more for the people wishing for more opportunities. And this publication wishes Mr. Mann success in his ventures. But it seems that without serious formal oversight and a structured set of gates that the county put in place prior to the groundbreaking on this, county taxpayers should just demand our planning department protect us from what could be a very costly white elephant.