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Hearing attendees make KRCC the issue

Those who arrived at Thursday night’s KRCC public hearing expecting to discuss the controversial separators proposal likely realized when they got to the door that plans had changed.

Just outside the main entrance to the President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, a cluster of people — members of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners — were handing out large buttons blazoned with: “What is KRCC?”

The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council hearing was convened to hear public testimony on the proposed amendments to countywide planning policy including the much-debated urban separators. However, it quickly became a battleground for pro-KRCC and anti-KRCC sentiments. Indeed, most of the 40-odd people who stepped up to the microphone Thursday either questioned the need for the board or defended their belief in its relevance.

The for and against arguments predictably broke down along political lines. Three high-ranking members of the Kitsap County Association of Realtors stepped up to accuse the KRCC of ignoring basic quality-of-life necessities such as employment, good schools, reliable transportation systems and an infrastructure that keeps pace with growth.

“It is our belief that the proposed changes (amendments) are not in the best interests of the quality of life (in Kitsap County),” said association president Dave Jones.

Association president-elect Frank Mahaffay flatly told the KRCC members if they kept coming up with policies like the ones proposed, the association would not support the board’s existence.

The Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, which often takes political positions similar to those of the Association of Realtors, sent four of its members up to the podium to call for removal of several KRCC board members — specifically the tribe representatives — and a reduction in the group’s responsibilities.

“I think the KRCC is made up of a group of well-intentioned, well-meaning individuals who are ill-advised,” said alliance member Don Taylor.

Taylor said the KRCC had overstepped its bounds with the proposed amendments and was trying to issue mandates instead of suggestions.

Other members, however, took a darker view of the KRCC’s members’ intentions.

Alliance president Jan Oleksiak had apparently gone out and taken pictures of the homes of KRCC board members. She pointed to the wooded location of each, then pointed to other pictures of pavement-heavy dense housing developments. She said the latter was an example of what resulted from minimum density requirements in urban areas.

“The council’s protecting their own homes, their own views, their own quality of life on the backs of those who can’t afford to pay,” Oleksiak said.

Two other groups — Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning and West Sound Conservation Coalition — took the opposite position. Their representatives said the KRCC was a good place for various jurisdictions and agencies to come to a compromise over issues with potentially far-reaching consequences — such as growth and sprawl.

Members of the conservation coalition said the separators and similar growth control measures were necessary to manage an ever-rising county population.

“Unless you protect our community from asphalt companies and out-of-town developers, we risk losing the place we call home,” said coalition member Peter Schrappen.

A few private citizens did manage to squeeze in their thoughts on the separators as a separate issue. Many of the nearly 100 who came that night were worried about how the amendments would affect their own properties and property values in general. Most supported the goal of putting a less-developed border between Bremerton and Silverdale — two communities that have grown practically into each others’ laps.

“None of my neighbors complain there isn’t enough sprawl in Kitsap County,” said Silverdale resident Jim Sharpe.

However, most did not like the idea of rural fences swallowing up their properties and putting economic pressure on their communities. Poulsbo resident Dan Baskins said his property would likely end up in a separator because he lives on the edge of the Poulsbo city limits and has no intention of ever annexing into the city.

He suggested the KRCC take another six or eight months to carefully review and overhaul the proposed amendments before taking action.

“I think we need time to do it right,” Baskins said.

South Kitsap resident Jeremy McMahan warned against deliberately robbing cities and the county of their property tax bases by putting in separators against residents’ will. He said if the KRCC moved to make citizens’ private properties legally unbuildable, it would be obligated to recompensate the owners for loss of value and take the properties off the tax rolls.

The burden to make up that difference in taxes, McMahan said, would then be shifted to those properties’ already over-taxed neighbors.

Many others seemed to agree.

“Please confine planning to items that truly require it,” said resident Jim Freeburg.

The other big push came from the Central Kitsap Community Council. The council wants the KRCC to make a priority out of getting Silverdale urban center status. The new designation would make the area eligible for federal regional transportation grants via the Puget Sound Regional Council. The issue of urban designation is expected to be included the proposed amendments, although it has not yet been written into the draft document.

It is also included in the separators proposal. One suggested option is to only require separators between designated urban areas — Bremerton and, if the change in status goes through, Silverdale.

Several council members also said their organization should have its own seat on the KRCC board. As council member Hank Mann-Sykes pointed out, Central Kitsap constitutes the largest tax base in the county but has no local representation.

The KRCC members maintained expressions of sincere polite interest, even as several citizens accused them of taking power trips and misusing funds. Only Alison O’Sullivan, representing the Suquamish Tribe, responded to some of the more personal allegations.

Several who spoke said the tribe representatives should be “uninvited” off the KRCC board because they didn’t have to abide by the decisions made by the board. O’Sullivan appeared bothered by these statements and offered tours and outreach programs to any who objected to the tribes’ involvement.

“I’m a little disappointed,” she said. “There seems to be a lack of information regarding the Suquamish Tribe.”

The other board members simply thanked everyone for their comments and said they would consider the remarks carefully. Several said they realized there were major problems with the draft proposal and promised to get the kinks worked out before voting on it.

“We want to make sure we do this right — the very best we can,” said board Chair Jan Angel.

The KRCC will hold its next regular meeting June 3. As of now, public testimony on the proposed amendments is closed. There will be another public hearing when the amendments are considered by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners.

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