Governance center plan moves ahead

"The 30-day hold Kitsap County Commissioners imposed in late May on land acquisition efforts for the $33 million joint government center project has long since expired.Consequently, Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority executive director Norman McLoughlin earlier this month moved forward with Phase II planning efforts for the controversial government center proposed for downtown Bremerton. McLoughlin said last week he's already started to negotiate with a half dozen property owners, including Washington Mutual Bank, for parcels key to the proposed government center, primarily located between Fifth and Sixth streets. Kitsap County has already committed up to $320,000 to facilitate studies and design work, which will be managed by KCCHA during Phase II planning.On a 2-1 vote, the county commissioners in late May decided to launch that second stage planning process but, at the last minute, also opted to appease Port Orchard officials by imposing a month-long moratorium on land acquisition. Although purchasing the property is instrumental to developing a preliminary schematic design for the proposal, the county granted the reprieve for a couple of reasons.Port Orchard City officials hoped to take that month to more closely examine two studies analyzing the impact of the proposed project on Bremerton and Port Orchard.Also, the breather was to have allowed the county and city officials enough time to hammer out and resolve the economic concerns centering on the intended location of 270 county jobs at the new government building in Bremerton.Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin said the county and city engaged in informal talks on several occasions, during which the agencies discussed how to increase downtown Port Orchard's customer base if the proposed government center is built and hundreds of county jobs are moved to Bremerton.Talks also centered on how the city of Port Orchard could make up any anticipated losses in tax revenue. It was suggested the county could more quickly facilitate future annexations to the city of Port Orchard, transfer ownership of the Givens Community Center to the city, or even help the city encourage private development at a site owned by the county and located just north of the courthouse.Currently Port Orchard officials say they want an impartial judge to decide whether locating county offices and employees in Bremerton constitutes moving the county seat from Port Orchard. The county commissioners say they're game, but the two jurisdictions are still working out the conditions under which such a legal question could be answered. Meanwhile, county commissioner Jan Angel, who represents both South Kitsap and part of Bremerton, says there are still too many questions surrounding not just the legality of the plan, but questions about traffic and congestion. For those reasons, she didn't vote in favor of the second-stage planning effort.Phase II planning is a concern to me because, if we're still in a study phase, then why are we buying the land now, said Angel. That doesn't make sense to me.Under the latest plan crafted by county officials, as many as 270 county employees from several different offices could be located in the joint government center. County offices that could move either totally or in large part, include the assessor, auditor, treasurer, county commissioners, administrative services and community development offices. The Kitsap County Commissioners would still conduct their regular meetings in Port Orchard at the courthouse, however.Meanwhile, the current plan calls for leaving about 500 employees in Port Orchard, primarily within the sheriff, prosecutor, clerk, superior court, district court, courthouse security, jail ,the juvenile facility and public works offices.Also as part of Phase II planning, Seattle-based LMN Architects, an agency that's working with the KCCHA, has started to help design the proposed government center, which is expected to include parking.The design firm, which had a hand in the construction of Benaroya Hall in Seattle, suggests the creation of an outward identity for both city and county officials. The idea is to create two structures with a glassed-in central plaza, including civic area and meeting rooms. A vertical landmark could be desirable as well, such as a clock tower, bell tower or lighthouse.Although the county commissioners have gone ahead with design and planning efforts, they haven't yet committed to construction, and they won't until several issues are resolved.The commissioners have said they want parking and traffic studies conducted first.County Commissioner Angel, however, still remains skeptical of the entire proposal.We're trying to put a round peg in a square hole, said Angel. Don't divide up county departments and then ask for efficiency of government. Instead, I'd like to see all the departments in need of more space to be located in one spot to be decided by the voters. "

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