Overlay district finally adopted

Port Orchard resident Kathy Michael made an 11th-hour attempt to sway the Port Orchard City Council from adopting an ordinance she fears will destroy the city’s small-town character and damage the lifestyle of those living along Kitsap Street behind the downtown core at Monday evening’s meeting.

Michael presented a survey “to inform the Port Orchard City Council that your citizens want responsible revitalization.”

Whatever form it takes, that revitalization will have to answer to the Downtown Overlay District, a document outlining regulations for a three-block area in Port Orchard’s historical commercial core.

The City Council debated the issue for more than a year, and on Monday evening it finally laid the the three-block Downtown Overlay District to rest, approving the document in a 5-2 vote.

That set the ordinance to go into effect once the City Council completes work on a design review board to oversee development. That step could be finalized in October, but still is in discussion.

Michael’s survey asked if residents wanted “to keep the small-town character of Port Orchard,” and asked if residents wanted to limit buildings along the water to two stories, and buildings on the south side of Bay Street to three stories.

“We have 611 signatures, 589 of them are telling you keep the small-town feel,” Michael said. “The response is an overwhelming rejection of 55-foot buildings.”

The overlay district allows developers to build up to 39 feet, or 55 feet with a conditional-use permit, on the south side of Bay Street, and 27 feet, or 39 feet with a conditional-use permit, throughout the rest of the district.

Those wanting the extra height must provide special amenities worth 1 percent of the monetary value of the new building.

By early in Monday’s meeting, the outcome of the vote seemed inevitable, allowing council members to explain their view of the regulations without rehashing the long-present arguments.

A clear division arose regarding building heights and the inclusion of the View Protection Ordinance — a document restricting developments from blocking more than 30 percent of an individual’s view.

After months of deliberations, five of the council members — Rita DiIenno, Robert Putaansuu, John Clauson, Fred Chang and Carolyn Powers — were ready to put the talk into action.

Powers said it was time to move on.

“It’s like raising kids,” she said. “You say, ‘Eat your veggies. Try it, you might like it.’ If we try this downtown, we just might like it.”

Citing struggling downtown businesses and stagnant development — several buildings remain empty or condemned, and Armchair Books closed down earlier this year because of slow sales — proponents of the document expressed understanding of individuals’ concerns, but held firm on the decision.

“Our retail sales, I think, are struggling in the city of Port Orchard,” Clauson said. “And retail sales are very important for the financial health of the city, and this is something that is, I think, going to help the revitalization of retail sales for our downtown.

“It’s not the silver bullet,” he said. “It’s not going to fix all problems, but I think it’s a major step in the right direction.”

Councilman Rick Wyatt restated and clarified his opposition to aspects of the document.

“I never said I was totally against this ordinance,” he explained.

He opposes a few portions, including the exclusion of the View Protection Ordinance and sections requiring public amenities for added height, saying, “If you have the money, you can go to 55 feet.”

“If (the View Protection Ordinance) is not incorporated,” he said, “it’s going to affect the folks south of Bay Street.”

Because of these sections — Wyatt called them “grey areas” — he decided not to support the ordinance.

For at least one downtown business owner, however, the decision was the right one.

Rudy Swenson, owner of Rings and Things at 710 Bay St., changed his business sign to read “Thank you city council, the best is yet to come.”

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