Public speaks out: Rural buffers would restrict growth unfairl - Property rights activists as well as the municipalities of Poulsbo and Port Orchard contend the buffers would restrict growth unfairly

Eric D. Williams
Bremerton Sun Staff

May 7, 2003

Kitsap County, WA - The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council got an earful from property rights activists and local government officials Tuesday about its proposal to incorporate urban separators into planning policy.
The rural buffers would prevent cities from bumping up against one another as in many metropolitan areas, their boundaries distinguishable only by "Leaving ..." and "Entering ..." signs.

They also might restrict the growth of cities that have no nearby neighbors, claim Port Orchard and Poulsbo officials.

Most of the 50-some people who attended a public hearing at the fairgrounds spoke out against urban separators being included in a 56-page, countywide planning update.

The document, which gives the county and cities direction of how to proceed with their comprehensive plans, is required by the Growth Management Act. The KRCC, with representatives from all of the county's municipalities, is leading the process.

Several audience members objected to KRCC's role during a discussion that spilled into the hot-button topic of Smart Growth. KRCC is another unnecessary layer of government, some citizens said.

Public officials on hand included state Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Olalla, Port of Bremerton Commissioner Bill Mahan, and prominent local developer Ron Ross.

Other main concerns addressed were:

Not enough time was allowed for public comment at the end or during the planning process.

Policies in the document don't mirror current demands for housing in urban and rural areas.

Language in the document is presented as a mandate instead of a policy guideline.

Because of the barrage of public comment, the council decided to continue the public hearing with a special meeting at 7 p.m. May 22 at the Fairgrounds' Presidents Hall.

On June 3, KRCC members are supposed to vote on the proposed changes. That vote might be tabled until after they hear more testimony.

"These proposed revisions are taken chapter and verse from Smart Growth policies," said Vivian Henderson, executive director of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners. "It is obvious that members of the coordinating council did not get the message last November when the people in Kitsap County made it clear they do not support the Smart Growth mentality.

"We believe this document is an unfortunate attempt by KRCC to wield authority they do not have."

Michael Gustavson, a member of the county planning commission, believes urban separators could lead to dense populations, creating housing prices too expensive for Navy families to afford which could lead to the Navy's departure.

Craig Jones, an attorney for KAPO, said the new population allocation that places five-sixths of new growth in urban growth areas is impractical.

"It's going to result in the development of assumptions that do not reflect either the historical development or realistic expectations in regards to where people are going to be living," he said.

Jones said that 55 percent of building permits issued in Kitsap County from 1995 to 1999 were for rural areas, and that people who live here demand rural land choices.

Some audience members supported the KRCC plan, including Tom Donnelly of Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning and former county commissioner Tim Botkin.

Botkin said the council needs to focus on two main issues: What will the county look like in 40 to 50 years and how will that vision be achieved?

"When you hear all of these criticisms, the thing you don't hear is people presenting you with alternatives about how to get to where they say they want to be," he said. "That's going to be you're responsibility."

In response to audience members who questioned KRCC's existence, County Commissioner Chris Endresen said the interagency group serves a vital role.

"The main purpose of this body is to coordinate between the cities and the county on growth issues," Endresen said. "And growth is probably the most contentious thing that we do.

"Without the coordination and without us sitting down and talking with the cities and the tribe, it doesn't work well. We found that out in the '90s when we were being sued by the cities and the tribes because we weren't working well together.

"We have been discussing this for a long time. The meetings are open. There have been members of KAPO at our meetings, and at our work-study meetings where we've been discussing this. It's not like this came out of the blue."

Reach reporter Eric D. Williams at (360) 792-3343 or at ewilliams@thesunlink.com.

 

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