Oddball project design provokes debate

Port Orchard property owners Richard and Karen Berg want to create a development that steps outside the box — literally.

The Bergs have applied to the city for permission to subdivide their 10.23-acre parcel, located off Caseco Lane above Ross Point, into three standard lots and a community of eight non-standard oblong lots surrounded by off-limits open space. The proposal is relatively new — city planner only know of one other such lay-out in Kitsap County.

However, the Bergs’ plans have stalled as they and their surveyor run up against city codes that were never written to deal with a subdivision like the one proposed.

“I consider this a very unique situation,” said Reid Muller, who handled surveying work for the project.

Nearly everything in the city’s land use codes would seem to prohibit the Bergs’ development — the lots don’t touch the street or offer minimum street frontage, the street is steep and lacking sidewalks and gutters, the odd-size lots don’t all meet minimum size and/or width requirements, the plan doesn’t include a “tot lot” playground as is typically required in new developments and the remote site is difficult for emergency vehicles to access, particularly in bad weather.

Nevertheless, the Bergs believe the development is actually better for those lacks and have asked for variances on nearly every item. Muller, speaking before the Port Orchard City Council Monday night, said many of the city standards simply didn’t apply to the proposed project. For instance, he explained, there’s no point in putting in a “tot lot” that would be out of sight of most of the houses, as would likely be the case on the heavily treed parcel.

The streets, Muller went on, are steep and narrow by necessity thanks to the hilliness of the area — sidewalks and gutters would do more damage to the surrounding woodlands than could be recouped through an increase in pedestrian safety.

“(The road’s) not so windy that a car wouldn’t see a pedestrian walking along there,” he said.

And so far as the lot requirements are concerned, Muller added, they were written for straight-sided properties — not the curvilinear ovals proposed for the project.

The guiding principle behind the site layout, Muller concluded, is to offer a highly desirable place to build a home while making the development process as low-impact as possible.

“We would like to keep impervious surfaces down to a minimum as much as possible,” he said.

The city council members looked like they didn’t quite know what to do with the project.

Most council members appeared to like the idea of the project, but had plenty of unanswered questions. The majority of concerns centered around the road requirements and how to enforce property lines while at the same time preserving the open space between the lots.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers was worried that, over time, the greenbelts separating the lots would get absorbed by them, leaving no wild land. Although there was some discussion about how to legally define the “in-between” spaces, no one presented a possible solution to the enforcement question.

“Whether we call it a buffer or an easement or a greenbelt, it’s still the same piece of property,” said Councilman Ron Rider. “If you aren’t going to do enforcement, they can do whatever they want with it no matter what we call it.”

Road standards were also a sore spot — examples of streets such as Cline and Rockwell were tossed around as examples of narrow, steep, sidewalk-less roads that were badly in need of improvements. Although Muller said the roads in question — Caseco Lane and the new road, KBIG Place — were private roads that would never support the amount of traffic as the thoroughfares mentioned, many council members remained leery.

“I like your concept; I think it’s a great idea,” said Councilman Don Morrison, who later offered significant support for much of the project. “But every time we reduce our standards, it comes back a year or two later and bites us someplace we don’t want to be bitten.”

Although the project has been in the works at the city level since March 2002, in the end the council decided it wasn’t yet prepared to make a final decision on the proposal. The council asked the staff to get specific answers to all remaining questions — everything from stormwater handling to the issues mentioned above — and bring everything back for the next council meeting, to be held Aug. 11.

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