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Townhome project nixed

It looks like the vacant lot behind the Olney Avenue Albertsons will stay vacant, at least for the time being.

The Port Orchard City Council Monday night voted unanimously to deny a proposal to build 50 townhomes on the 4.89-acre site. Despite a lengthy presentation from developer Richard Fitzpatrick and contract engineer Craig Baldwin, the council felt there were still too many dangling issues and unanswered questions to permit the project to move forward.

“I think there’s several things that have been mentioned here that we need more discussion on and more documentation on,” said Councilman John Clauson.

Clauson, along with several other council members, asked Fitzpatrick and Baldwin numerous pointed questions regarding the plan for stormwater handling and the parking needs of the development.

The stormwater issue appeared to be the big controversy of the night. Baldwin, of Port Orchard-based Westsound Engineering, went into some detail on the site’s 70,000 square-foot stormwater storage vault. He outlined the benefits of underground storage and emphasized the potential uses for the space above the vault — namely tennis or basketball courts. Baldwin pointed out that, because of the sloping grade of the site, a regular stormwater detention pond would have to be very deep and very wide to accommodate the same volume of water handled by the vault.

“It would really change the whole feature of the project,” he said.

However, he provoked a moderate uproar among council members and audience members alike when he said the vault would empty directly into the stormwater detention pond of the adjoining Rockport housing development. Councilman Rick Wyatt flatly questioned the legality of such a plan and several audience members made audible sounds of outrage as Baldwin’s presentation continued.

Essentially, Baldwin’s argument in favor of the proposed stormwater system hinged on the idea the Rockport pond had been designed to handle runoff from Fitzgerald’s parcel. Because the whole site slopes down toward Rockport, Rockport’s system picks up any surface water from that area and channels it to its own pond.

However, the two residents who got up to speak — both of whom lived in or near the Rockport development — questioned the wisdom of piggy-backing on the Rockport system.

“Rockport drainage is not really that great,” said Rockport resident Brad Lambert. “I would not trust Rockport’s drainage system.”

John Comstock, who lives next to the pond, said the development’s reputation had preceded it in his neighborhood. He talked briefly about the homes nearby that had several feet of water already in their foundations from runoff problems. Comstock also said he personally had lost much of his backyard to erosion and recently had to install a retaining wall to prevent further loss.

He expressed concern the problems would only grow worse after Fitzpatrick’s development starting routing its water directly into the Rockport pond.

“We’ve already had three or four people move out because this is coming,” Comstock said.

Baldwin said the runoff generated by the development would be no more than that generated by the empty lot, but he also suggested Rockport should be responsible for any repairs to the pond made necessary by a sudden increase in stormwater.

“That would be their responsibility, unless they could find somebody else who was liable for the damage,” Baldwin said.

Many of the council members were not reassured by Baldwin’s remarks.

“It seems a little strange to me a site of this magnitude would have its runoff go into a pond they don’t own and don’t have permission to use,” Wyatt said.

There was also considerable debate over the proposal’s plan for accommodating resident and guest parking.

The townhomes all have individual garages and a driveway strip in front. However, because the driveway is only an estimated 20 feet from garage to sidewalk, several council members were concerned there would be barely enough room for residents’ cars, and no room at all for guests to park.

Baldwin, however, said residents would most likely park in their garages, leaving plenty of room for extra household or guest cars. He pointed out the 20-foot length was calculated to be about equal to a standard stall in a commercial parking lot.

“Your typical car is much shorter than that,” he said.

Baldwin also pointed out the main access road was sufficiently wide to handle cars parking along both sides, although closely spaced driveways would make parking practical only along the north side of the street.

“With four parking stalls per unit, we don’t anticipate the need for a lot of on-street parking,” Baldwin said.

In the end, even though the council members decided dense development on the lot was a concept they favored — they unanimously voted to up-zone the parcel to allow 20 housing units per acre —they also decided the plan was flawed and needed more work.

Their decision baffled Fitzpatrick, who several days after the meeting admitted he still wasn’t exactly sure what had been decided.

“I couldn’t exactly figure out what they didn’t like — that wasn’t clear,” he said. “We were kind of taken aback.”

Fitzpatrick said he is waiting to see the council’s decision in writing before he starts formulating his next plan of action. With its approval of the high-density up-zone, the council has opted to back a townhome project on the site — just not the project Fitzpatrick came up with.

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