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City comp plan changes challenged

The proposed changes to Port Orchard’s comprehensive plan hit a snag Monday night when the city planning commission announced it could not support two of the biggest proposed changes — a new medium-density residential designation and a greenbelt designation.

According to commission chair Gil Michael, the commission simply wants more time to determine what effect the changes will have on individual properties.

“This is a major comprehensive plan change and because of that it needs a detailed look at how this affects the individual properties,” Michael said.

The proposed changes, developed and recommended by the city planning staff, would have affected the plan designation of much of residential Port Orchard.

Two large areas — and several smaller areas — would be reduced from a high-density residential designation to a medium-density residential designation. High density zones can support up to 20 housing units per acre while medium density zones would only be able to support between eight and 12 units per acre. This would effectively cut in half the number of housing units able to be built on an affected site.

Currently, there are only high-density and low-density residential designations in the comprehensive plan. However, there is a medium-density option in city zoning. City planner Rob Wenman said the proposed change would bring the comp plan into alignment with the city zoning code.

“There’s always the opportunity for a property owner to petition the city if they feel the designation doesn’t fit their property,” Wenman said. “It’s not like it’s fixed in stone.”

Michael, however, believes any comp plan change which affects such a large portion of Port Orchard needs to be examined carefully. He supports taking a block-by-block — or even a lot-by-lot — survey of the affected area to make sure the boundaries of the area slated for change are accurate.

He, along with four of the other five commission members, wants the city council to reject the amendment and allow the planning commission to get to work studying the proposal in depth. It is unusual for the planning commission to work on a proposal which is not up for decision — comp plan amendments are typically not presented until late spring or early summer — but Michael said the commissioners are enthusiastic to give this issue the attention they believe it deserves.

“The look it deserves — we can’t do it in the six months we have,” he said.

The commission is recommending denial of another proposed amendment — the new greenbelt designation — for a similar reason. Although the greenbelt designation would essentially codify the designation which already exists in the city zoning code, Michael wants to make sure only appropriate properties are included.

A property zoned as greenbelt — usually parcels near major wetlands or on steep slopes — can be developed only minimally. Michael wants to avoid taking away a property owner’s right to develop without first making sure the property does need a greenbelt label.

Only one planning commissioner — Kimberly Ruona — voted to recommend the two amendments. However, Ruona was not available to comment.

The commission will be making its recommendation official at Monday night’s regular commission meeting. Following that, the city council will begin discussing the issue starting at a public hearing planned for Dec. 9. The council is expected to make its final decision at the regular council meeting scheduled for Dec. 23.

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