Crowd loudly condems KRCC plans

At least a half dozen South Kitsap residents and others representing South Kitsap interests showed up on Tuesday to finely shred the urban separator proposal being considered by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

Usually few to no Kitsap residents attend KRCC meetings, let alone residents from the Port Orchard area. On Tuesday morning, however, the lobby of the Eagle’s Nest in Silverdale was packed to overflowing and many complained on behalf of others who were not able to attend.

“Very few people who work for a living can come to these meetings,” said North Kitsap resident Alan Miller. “You’re restricting the number of people who can give input.”

Those who did speak made up for the absence of those who couldn’t, however. The tenor of many comments was frustration bordering on outrage. Vivian Henderson, representing the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, delivered a highly critical speech regarding the revisions planned for the Kitsap planning policies, which include the controversial separators proposal.

“We believe the revisions proposed by the KRCC are not only outrageous but a flagrant violation of the law,” Henderson said.

The separator concept proposes surrounding urban growth areas with less-developed or undeveloped rings in order to create visual breaks between urban centers. Almost no one in Port Orchard or South Kitsap has voiced support for the plan and many city officials have called the proposal a deliberate attempt to curb future Port Orchard expansion and growth.

Because the separators would fall between all UGAs — not just those surrounding cities — the proposal would also make it virtually impossible for McCormick Woods, which has its own stand-alone UGA, to ever annex into the city.

“This document needs to be changed considerably,” said Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill.

“We feel these policies are premature at this time,” agreed city planner Rob Wenman, who spoke on behalf of the Port Orchard City Council. “The problem we are trying to solve is not well-defined.”

The KRCC originally proposed instituting separators because of fears the county’s ever-expanding urban areas would become indistinguishable from one another.

Silverdale and Bremerton are already suffering from identity problems, explained Darryl Piercy, assistant director of community development. As the two areas grow toward one another, he continued, it’s become increasingly difficult to see where one begins and the other ends.

The fear of many county officials is that Kitsap County will one day look like the Tukwila area — one big urban strip with no community identities.

South Kitsap land owners don’t agree, though.

“This has been done in other areas, in other cities, in other countries with poor results,” said Mike Gustavson, a South Kitsap resident who also sits on the county planning commission.

Gustavson said by boxing in cities the county would inadvertently push up the cost of real estate in rural areas. He, along with many others who spoke, pointed out the high demand for non-urban property in South Kitsap. With rising property values, he explained, come rising property taxes that can bankrupt low-income homeowners.

“You can make it too expensive for the community to survive,” Gustavson said.

Others questioned the propriety of the KRCC even proposing such a wide-reaching policy change.

Henderson, for example, challenged the right of the Suquamish and the S’Klallam tribes to vote on the proposed revisions. She said it was unlawful for non-elected officials to vote on county matters, particularly when those officials represented communities not affected by the final outcome.

“To allow a tribe a voice in matters outside their jurisdiction when those who are directly affected are not invited to the table is plain wrong,” Henderson said.

South Kitsap resident Bill Mahan, a former county commissioner, said the KRCC was never intended to mandate change. Mahan, a founding member of a precursor to the KRCC, said the group was put together as a forum for discussion, not lawmaking.

“This body was established to have cities and county sit down and talk about planning issues they can address together,” he said. “It was never intended that this body have any authority to implement policy.”

The KRCC doesn’t have the power to make or amend county laws, but the three county commissioners sit on the board, and the commissioner (Angel) who chairs the county board also chairs the KRCC. Actions by the council are confirmed only when there is a majority of votes from county representatives (2 of the 3) and from the representatives from at least two of the cities. One could argue that the county commissioners could easily

approve a policy at the county level once they did so at the KRCC level.

The KRCC board seemed taken aback by the volume and tenor of the public response. In fact, only one speaker — South Kitsap resident Tom Donnelly — said he supported the proposed changes. Several board members also appeared bothered by the number of people who said the public had not been properly included in the planning process.

“The one thing we have heard here today is that citizens have not had enough time to comment,” said board chair Jan Angel, who represents South Kitsap as a county commissioner.

In response, the board unanimously decided to hold another public hearing, this time in the evening. The meeting has been set for 7 p.m. on May 22. A location, however, has not yet been determined. Written comments will be accepted until that time as well.

The board may still vote on the proposed measures at its next meeting in June, depending on the outcome of the second public hearing.

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