ARLINGTON — Tom Lane sounds relieved.
After more than 20 years, he’s finally getting to build his car dealership, Dwayne Lane’s Arlington Chevrolet, at Island Crossing north of Arlington.
Construction started in February, but work became visible in the past few weeks.
It is the site one of the most contested land-use battles ever in Snohomish County. Lane started the legal fight when he was 24.
He’s 45 now.
“I’ll be excited to focus on business and automobiles and leave all this land-use planning behind me,” Lane said.
The $6.5 million, 35,000-square-foot dealership is expected to open either late summer or early fall. He’ll relocate his current dealership at 21015 Highway 9 in Arlington to the new one along I-5 just south of Highway 530. He plans to double the number of employees from 25 to 50.
“What I’m really excited for is all of our employees,” Lane said. “We’ve promised and promised a better opportunity for them and their families.
“To see this in the ground, to see it’s finally here, it’s like Charlie Brown finally got to kick the football.”
Island Crossing is a triangular, 110-acre swath of land in north Arlington bordered to the west and north by the two highways. It was designated agricultural land in 1978.
In 1995, city and county officials began a quest to re-designate the land a commercial corridor and to develop it as part of Arlington.
The acreage has been the centerpiece of a contentious, convoluted land use battle ever since.
Proponents touted the promise of new tax revenue as a reason the land would be better suited to commercial development than farming.
Opponents worried about the destruction of farmland and the threat of flooding in the area, which lies along the flood-prone Stillaguamish River.
Last fall, Lane reached a settlement with the Stillaguamish Flood Control District over whether the development could go forward. The parties signed the agreement on Halloween.
As part of the effort to settle the dispute, Lane agreed to build a car lot designed so that, in the event of a flood, it would contribute minimal net rise in the water level on properties nearby or downstream.
But the lawyer for the flood control district has his doubts about the project. He said if Lane’s consultants are wrong — and his project does cause waters to rise during floods — it could swamp I-5.
“It’s still a bad idea, it’s a bad idea to build in a flood plain,” Henry Lippek said. “For the last 50 years or so, federal, state and local agencies have tried to rein that in.”
Lane contends that the fight was more about activists from King County wanting to impose their viewpoints in Snohomish County.
Lane, whose father, Dwayne, started the business in 1954, owns three dealerships, one in Everett, one in Sedro-Wooley and the one in Arlington. He plans to build the new lot on 4.5 acres. He owns just 15 of the 110 acres of Island Crossing. There are 21 other property owners.
“We were the only ones with concrete plans to do something,” Lane said. “The rest of the owners are now looking at doing something with their properties.”
The flood control district will keep tabs on any new proposals, Lippek said.
“They’re going to monitor the planning process and ensure any other development also has zero-flood-rise impacts,” Lippek said. “If those expenditures are made to do that then at least some of the flood control district’s concerns would be alleviated.”
It’s been an expensive, risky fight to be able to get to the point where construction can start, Lane said.
Over the past 20 years, during the legal saga that went to the state Supreme Court, Lane figures he’s spent more than $1 million on legal fees, consultants and engineers.
He’s just glad it’s behind him.
“It’s a passionate subject for a lot of people and we were in the middle of some different ideaology,” Lane said. “We just had the steadfastness to keep through it and keep our heads up. We knew we were right. It’s unfortunate it took this long to prove it.”