City residents decry overlay district

The Port Orchard City Council may have experienced a spell of déja vu Monday evening as they began the first public reading of the Downtown Overlay District.

Thirty-seven residents, political candidates, business owners and developers turned out for the meeting, which was the first to allow public comments since April.

Residents decried the current draft, saying that City Council has ignored their requests, while business owners and developers expressed frustration over the length of the deliberations.

“We’re putting everything we have on the line to make this building something to be proud of,” said Deb Townsend, co-owner of 802 Bay Street with Don Dahl.

Townsend said she is ready to be done with the whole project, explaining that the last year and a half has been long, expensive and painful.

“We don’t need a city council, we need a priest to give downtown its last rights, because it’s dead, or it’s about to die,” Townsend said Thursday.

As some buildings downtown lay empty and deteriorate, developers are waiting to rebuild, and insist revitalization will be good for the whole city, but paid for by the businesses.

Those arguments have not deterred downtown residents who fear Bay Street will mimic the kind of city growth seen in Bremerton, creating what they have called “canyon effects” from the tall buildings.

“I am scared of this decision,” Kitsap Street resident Jerri Harmon said. “We are losing the small-town feel, and buildings of that size can be done somewhere else.”

Residents asked the council to reject the current draft, and a few promoted the EDAW plan drafted in 2004 for the revitalization of downtown.

Unlike previous meetings, the city is now moving towards a November election, and a number of candidates for positions in City Hall were present to voice their opinion.

“I would like to encourage the council to reject this legislation when it comes to a vote,” said Kitsap Street resident and city council hopeful Jerry Childs in a written statement. “I wish I could say differently, given all the time and hard work that has gone into it, but this legislation is just not good for Port Orchard.”

Gil and Kathy Michael asked developers why they have not started projects based on the city’s current regulations.

In response, Townsend echoed her sentiment over the cost of development Thursday, explaining that if she acquired financing for a building and the regulations changed, she could be required to start — and spend the money —over again.

“This is why none of the building owners are prepared to go through the time, trouble and expense of getting design, architecture and engineering,” she said. “If we go through all that trouble, submit it in for permits and the rules are changed, now we have to go back and reinvent the wheel, which costs more money.”

Mayoral candidate Lary Coppola said that residents he has met while campaigning do not want taller buildings downtown.

“I have not talked to one person who’s in favor the 55-feet height limit,” he said.

City Council had a few more questions to wrap up on the proposed legislation, and showed no immediate signs of making the kind of drastic changes the residents want. By the next meeting, several council members will meet with Greg Jacoby, the city’s lawyer, to touch up a few details before discussing the issue again in September.

The Port Orchard City Council meets next at 7 p.m., September 10.

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