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Port to woo Bremerton

This aerial photograph shows the South Kitsap Industrial Area along with nearby cities and landmarks. - Courtesy of the Port of Bremerton
This aerial photograph shows the South Kitsap Industrial Area along with nearby cities and landmarks.
— image credit: Courtesy of the Port of Bremerton

After meeting in private for nearly an hour to discuss a “threatened litigation,” the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to petition the City of Bremerton to annex the South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA).

“The vote today was a simple step, but a giant leap for SKIA development,” said board president Cheryl Kincer, explaining that while half of the approximately 3,400-acre property is owned by the port, the other half is owned by private parties she described as being “held hostage by onerous zoning regulations.”

If the area is annexed into Bremerton, however, Kincer said the development process would become easier and involve less layers of government.

“(Bremerton) has been so very responsive,” she said. “They’ve been ‘Johnny-on-the-spot.’”

A desire to work with Bremerton was shared by other property owners who addressed the board, including Peter Overton — the father of David Overton — whose family owns more than 20 percent of SKIA.

“Annexation with Bremerton is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up — it would benefit the whole area, including Bremerton, Port Orchard and Belfair,” Overton said. “The city of Bremerton is the only one that is able to legally annex the area, and it seems to want to work with us.”

Fellow property owner Ken Haines, who owns several acres across from the Rodeo Drive-in Theatre along State Route 3, echoed Overton’s desire to work with Bremerton and expressed frustration with officials from both Kitsap County and Port Orchard.

“I’m tired of the county sticking it to the property owners,” said Ken Haines, adding that he felt the county had a history of “stopping business” and described it as a “huge bureaucracy where 20 different people could give you 15 different answers, (while Bremerton) has someone to talk to who can help you.”

As for Port Orchard potentially being left out of the annexation process, Haines said, “I don’t feel sorry for Port Orchard at all. They’ve made it so difficult for businesses (such as Home Depot) and are taking so long on the Bethel Corridor.”

In response, Port Orchard’s new Community Development Director James Weaver said the county, not the city, had control over whether Home Depot could have located in South Kitsap and whether progress was made on the Bethel Corridor project.

However, Weaver conceded that in the past, “Port Orchard has been a minor player. But we have a new, visionary mayor and new, visionary council, and we want to be a player.”

He urged the board to still consider Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola’s idea for a “multi-jurisdictional” option that would have the port, the county and both cities sharing the costs and benefits of developing SKIA.

“We have extended the olive branch, and we hope you will join us in our efforts to make the best use of SKIA,” Weaver said.

Port Commissioner Bill Mahan said he was not sure such an arrangement was legal, but he did want all parties to continue to work together.

“We have a history of working together in this county,” he said, explaining that the revitalization of Bremerton and its marina would not have been possible without the municipalities of Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and Port Orchard cooperating.

“I feel (Mayor Coppola’s) proposal is very important to the success of SKIA,” Mahan said.

The board then voted on three resolutions related to the annexation petition.

The first was to give port Chief Executive Officer Ken Attebery permission to hire special counsel Gerry Johnson, an attorney with the Seattle firm K&L Gates, to assist the port with the annexation process.

The second was deciding whether the port should petition the city of Bremerton for annexation, and the third was suggested by Mahan, who wanted the port to “enter into discussions with Kitsap County, Port Orchard, Bremerton and West Sound Utility District to solve the infrastructure issues in SKIA.”

All three resolutions passed unanimously.

Now that the port has petitioned Bremerton, Johnson explained that the city has 60 days to respond.

“We’ll go to work on this today,” said Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, who attended the meeting with other Bremerton officials including Councilman Will Maupin and Public Works Director Phil Williams. “We take this as a huge challenge. It will be a lot of work, but I think we’re up for it.”

When Mahan asked how binding this first step was and if the port could still back out, Johnson replied that it could.

“This is a two-step process,” he said, “and the next step, where 75 percent (verses 10 percent) of the owners of SKIA property would be petitioning, would be more binding.”

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