Despite Previous Opposition to Growth Management, Commissioners Vote Against Development of Private Property

Plans for YMCA Camp at Mineral Lake Halted by Lewis County Commissioners


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the YMCA camp was endorsed by the Lewis Economic Alliance. The Alliance supported the project initially but declined to give an official endorsement.

Three voluntary community meetings, endorsements by several local education groups  and over a year spent studying impacts to infrastructure, environment and water were apparently all in vain for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. 

On Tuesday morning, the nonprofit's dream of building a new overnight youth camp on the north shore of Mineral Lake came to a screeching halt when the Lewis County commissioners unanimously voted down a rezone of the organization’s property, which would have been the next necessary step to establish the camp.

“We were disappointed, of course. But we also respect the county commissioners and those are difficult decisions,” said Gwen Ichinose Bagley, youth development officer for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “We’re gonna need to regroup … But, we are committed to outdoor opportunities for youth. That’s always been our north star and we will continue that work.”

The commissioners on Tuesday were adopting annual changes to the county’s comprehensive plan. For all but the YMCA property rezone, they voted per the recommendations from the Lewis County Planning Commission, a citizen advisory committee that reviews changes to the plan. Of all the changes, the YMCA request received the most public comments. Many testimonies from residents strongly opposed development of the site, while Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope said a handful were more opposed to the YMCA as an organization. 

Before he and his seatmates casted their votes against the rezone, he asked Ichinose Bagley a list of questions he said came from his review of the written testimonies; highlighting that in the organization’s testimonies, “education” had been mentioned over 80 times.

He then proceeded to ask Ichinose Bagley about where the nonprofit stands on critical race theory, gender reassignment surgery and defunding the police. 

Commissioner Lindsey Pollock cut in at one point to say: “Commissioner Swope, you need to recall that these are land use decisions.”

Pollock did not respond to a request for comment on the decision where her vote aligned with her seatmate.

Later asked by The Chronicle why he targeted the organization’s values in relation to a decision for private property, Swope said it was the YMCA’s choice to bring up their goals for education in their testimonies.

In response to his questions, Ichinose Bagley simply responded that the Y is focused on providing outdoor education for all youth.

When making their decision, county staff said the commissioners should consider whether: the change conforms to the Growth Management Act and county code, there is a demonstrated need for the project, the public interest is served and the change is not “spot zoning,” meaning a unique zone change unlike the area around it. 

Swope said it was the question of public interest that prompted him to vote down the rezone, and the project didn’t have “community buy-in.”

Despite the commissioners in the past being vocally anti-Growth Management Act, which was even brought up by Commissioner Lee Grose during this meeting, Swope likened the decision to the county halting the development of the Crystal Geyser water bottling plant in Randle or the studying of windmills on Weyerhaeuser land in the Willapa Hills.

This is not the first time Lewis County has voted down development decisions on the parcels north of Mineral Lake, but previous proposals sought to turn the area into a lakefront vacation house community, according to 78-year resident Ron Nillson. 

“We continue to believe that a youth and family camp and outdoor education center is the best use for that property, because its low-impact use will allow the bulk of the property to remain in its natural state,” said Ichinose Bagley. “The Y is considering its options in the wake of the decision.”