Meet Your New Neighbor: The Members’ Only Steamboat Island Athletic Club

Detail from the current approved site plan

Local residents cannot help but notice the activity on the prairie at the corner of Steamboat Island and Sexton roads. In recent weeks, grading has commenced on a 5.2 acre parcel owned by STAC Properties, LLC (Drake Nicholson and Desiree Forbes). A number of inquiries have been received by members of the Griffin Neighborhood Association as to what’s up. We can now report that Mr. Nicholson is indeed moving ahead with construction on a pair of buildings totaling 43,020 square feet to house a “members’ only” facility with indoor tennis courts, a salon with massage, manicure/pedicure, sauna and tanning facilities, a weight room, racquetball court, climbing wall, hot tub, and a small swimming pool.

Meet the new neighbor. Except for the Griffin School, nothing as big as this structure exists in our area. Beyond the footprint on the ground, too, the height required to accommodate tennis courts may put this among the highest structures.

Mr. Nicholson purchased the parcel in April, 2003 and made application in mid-2004 to build the Steamboat Island Tennis Club. The original application required a Special Use Permit (the parcel is zoned for rural residential use) for the construction of a 43,200 square foot building “for indoor tennis and other associated athletic uses such as a weight room, locker room and swimming pool. In addition,” according to that original application, “the facility includes two outdoor tennis and 151 parking stalls.” Copies of the original application materials are available on the web site of the Griffin Neighborhood Association.

Long before grading equipment set to work on one of the last undeveloped portions of prairie in our area, voices had been raised against the project. Some objected to the development as a “huge, urban and high density athletic facility.” One local resident, Steve Lundin, filed a formal appeal against approval of the application. In a letter to the County’s Permit Assistance Center, Mr. Lundin wrote the project “(1) Violates the county zoning code; (2) is incompatible with the County Comprehensive Plan and the State’s Growth Management Act; and (3) will have substantial and undue adverse impacts on the Griffin community.”

Other residents welcomed the possibility there might be built an athletic facility closer to home.

While the Board of the Griffin Neighborhood Association did not take a position either in favor of or against the project, they did note a number of inconsistencies in the plans and wrote in a memo to Association members that “confusion exists about the project details.” Early in the planning stages, Mr. Nicholson had approached the Board to describe what he had in mind. However, many on the Board at the time reported the plans discussed appeared to be so fluid as to be impossible to say exactly what it was Mr. Nicholson was actually going to build. Some expressed concerns over the long-term viability of the business being proposed for such large buildings.

In May, 2006, the County’s Hearing Examiner upheld the decision to approve the Special Use Permit and denied Mr. Lundin’s appeal against the County’s approval of the project. Although zoned Rural Residential, as is much of the land on our peninsula, the Hearing Examiner allowed to go forward plans to construct what he described as two buildings “proposed to be 35 feet in height.”

The Comprehensive Plan requires development to remain rural in character and to balance human uses with the natural environment, and it requires commercial uses to be small in scale for provision of convenience services to the surrounding rural neighborhood.

Following the Hearing Examiner’s decision, an appeal was filed with the County Commissioners. The size regulations for athletic facilities in the county were not in place at the time of the original application. Commissioner MacLeod abstained from voting “due to his concerns about the special use application and whether or not it was properly vested under the rules relied upon by the Hearing Examiner.” However, the two remaining Commissioners, Cathy Wolfe and Diane Oberquell, upheld the Hearing Examiner’s decision.

That’s where things ended back in July, 2006.

In October, 2009, Mr. Nicholson filed an amended application. This time the facility included a pro shop and a “café/deli.”

In the intervening years, little the public would be aware of appears to have been done with the parcel. That is, until a few weeks ago. That’s when the grading began. We now have received from the County a packet of materials with the latest site plans. The pro shop and café/deli are out. The County’s Amended Administrative Site Plan Review includes a copy of correspondence from the Public Works Department, dated this last March, and a memo from the Environmental Health Department, in April. A blank Administrative Appeal Application Form was also included.

The County is recommending approval of the permit and for the project to proceed. A nonrefundable fee of $1710 would be required to appeal the decision. Such an appeal would need to be filed by June 15.

Click here to peruse our archive of documents related to the Steamboat Island Athletic Club.

Watch this space for more information, as it becomes available.

Posted in Uncategorized.


  1. Other than the few comments Drake Nichols delivered, at our Annual Meeting (, we have no updates to provide. It’s best to contact the developer, directly, so he can answer whatever questions you may have. Drake Nicholson: Nicholson & Associates Insurance at 360-352-8444.

  2. I, for one, am extremely excited about this development. I hate having to drive to town to play tennis or work out. I spend more time driving than the actual work out. My family will definitely join this club. My only question is how soon until it is completed?

  3. In letters back and forth with the county, the problems with this proposal are unbelievable. Several of us were sent out packages with an invitation to appeal the proposal to the hearing examiner. But, the packet of information we received was mostly mis-information. We were not told that TC development services made an “administrative decision” to extend the SUP indefinitely.

    We were not told that the documents stamped as “approved” were incorrect. For instance, the construction permit has not actually expired according to Gayle Zeller (although, in a letter sent to her directly from planning and included in the packet stated that a construction permit would be required). Ms. Zeller apparently overlooked that detail of expired/not expired….begs the question, what else has been missed?

    The detail project drawing shows two entrances/exits but the decision of the hearing examiner in 2006 stated there can be only 1 entrance to the facility. In spite of that, this plan was also stamped “approved” until we questioned it….The second entrance, we are now being told, is for “emergency vehicles only”. It would have been nice to have had that info included in the packet instead of having to ask. You can now see a berm of black rock blocking off the entrance from Steamboat Island Road…..but it was not there before we questioned this detail.

    The plans to include a spa, salon and more were never granted by the hearing examiner in 2006, but the county took it upon themselves to ignore this and give the nod to “extra amenities”. I had no idea they had the power to ignore both the hearing examiner AND the commissioners! Please, if you have not done so, read the hearing examiner’s findings provided on the GNA site.

    These changes fall under “members only” which opens up another issue:
    In the plans submitted by Mr. Nicholson concerning the traffic analysis, he stated that 60% of attendance would be from the Steamboat Island/Griffin area. That was when it was deemed a fitness/tennis club meant for benefit of the residents of this area. Now it’s become a “members only” facility and, so far, we have not seen a new traffic analysis addressing the ramifications of this new title. I would like to see a 40% cap of membership outside the area and force a 60% immediate area membership in keeping with the traffic analysis provided in 2006. If that cannot be accomplished, I would like to know there will be heavy impact fees to take care of the traffic increase we will undoubtedly experience without a cap on out of area membership. Once again, I urge you to read the findings in the hearing examiner’s decision.

    It was deemed by the hearing examiner (and upheld by the commissioners) that the facility “fit in” with the rural character of the area. If you take a look at the drawing that has been submitted as the final product, it more resembles a Safeway store than anything “rural in character”. That’s just my humble opinion.

    I would hope that any one with an interest in this project chime in. The time for an appeal has passed (not that there was any correct information included in the packet to use in an appeal) but there is no deadline for writing letters to the county and making sure they understand we are keeping a keen eye on this project. This is the exact commercial building tactics taken by large developers that we have all complained about in the past, to no avail. Only this time, it’s in your and my back yard where it opens the gateway for future commercial development on residential zoned land. This is a precedent setting project. I can just picture a DR Horton type subdivision coming our way very soon because, if you can manage to get an never expiring SUP on prairie land (in spite of regulations that say SUP’s are good for three years) to build a huge, commercial, for profit fitness/tennis facility for the wealthy only on residential land, you can accomplish anything.

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