Casino could yet win permit

On Monday, a Kitsap Superior Court judge ruled the city of Port Orchard was required to grant a conditional-use permit for a proposed casino on Bay Street — assuming the project’s developer still wants one.

The appeal was filed by West Bay Center LP on behalf of Hank O’Sullivan, a Belfair mini-casino owner. The Port Orchard City Council last June turned down O’Sullivan’s application to build a mini-casino in the West Bay Shopping Center. Because O’Sullivan had already signed a 15-year contract with the property owners, the city’s denial made it virtually impossible for the landlord to collect any rent on that contract, O’Sullivan said.

The basis for the city’s denial was that the casino’s proposed facade would not fit in with the surrounding buildings. O’Sullivan argued that they been told by city staff elevation drawings did not need to be included with permit applications.

A subsequent request for more time in which to produce such drawings was rejected by the city council. At the same time, the city council unanimously voted to draft an ordinance banning casinos and other gambling establishments within city limits.

This last denial was one of the key issues which motivated the judge’s decision.

“The fact that the ultimate reason for rejection of the permit application was the petitioner’s failure to produce detailed exterior plans, when they had been led to believe by the city staff that no such plans were required for the CUP (conditional use permit) application process, weighs heavily in the mind of the court,” read one portion of the judge’s written finding.

None of the three council members who resisted the council’s decision to deny O’Sullivan additional time were available for comment Monday. Two of the three — Tom Stansbery and Warren Van Zee — are no longer on the council.

Three voted for the measure and Mayor Jay Weatherill cast the deciding vote.

Weatherill, as of Monday evening, had not yet read the judge’s finding report. Although he expressed surprise the judge had found against the city and was curious as to what the judge’s reasoning was, he said he hasn’t thought much about the issue since it last came before the city council. However, he said he was prepared to accept whatever the judge said.

“We’re going to do what the court says we have to do,” Weatherill said. “That’s all I can tell you about it. If it must be, it must be.”

Former councilman Warren Van Zee said he still supports the idea of doing something with the West Bay Center and does not have a problem with that’something’ being a mini-casino. He didn’t express surprise that the judge found the city’s method of denial invalid.

“I thought if he went to court he’d probably win,” Van Zee said. “We approved (the casino) until we got bombarded, and then we tried to find a way to get out of it.”

The whole point could be moot, anyway. O’Sullivan expressed disgust over the way his application was handled by the city, particularly by the mayor and city council members. He said, regardless of the judge’s decision, he may not want to accept the permit and establish a business in Port Orchard.

“I think I was made a mockery of,” O’Sullivan said.

Nevertheless, he said he plans to consult with his investors and decide whether or not to pursue his original proposal.

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