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Questions and worry mark progression of county campus plan

Kitsap County’s master plan for expansion around its existing courthouse-based campus in Port Orchard is still rattling around the planning commission.

But the centerpiece of the expansion, the proposed 70,000-square-foot new county administration building, is up for comment and possible approval by the Port Orchard City Council on Monday.

As a result, some property owners within the proposed expansion area are beginning to get nervous.

“They told us we had to be out by January,” said attorney Jim Reese, who owns a law practice at 612 Sidney Avenue.

Reese claims he got a call from the county’s land-use lawyer back in May. He said the lawyer, Kevin Howl, didn’t give him anything in writing but essentially told Reese the county needed his property to become a parking lot while administration building construction was going on. In addition, Reese said, Howl gave him the impression that there was nothing Reese or his partners could do about it.

“I don’t think they implied I had any say,” Reese said.

Although moving would be “disruptive,” he said, Reese also said his main concern was for the house itself. He said the structure may date back 100 years or more and, frankly, he doesn’t want to see it leveled to make way for a parking lot. Nevertheless, at this point, Reese said, his options are limited.

“There’s the option of moving the building,” he said. “I hate to tear it down, but I don’t know if I can afford to move it.”

Officially, the county denies ever having given Reese a deadline to vacate. Karen Ross, the project’s manager, said no one ever told Reese he had to move. She said the county is interested in acquiring the property, but that interest is wholly based on Reese’s willingness to sell.

“I stood right there (before the planning commission) and said we’re not going to condemn property,” Ross said. “If he doesn’t want to sell, we’ll move on, because it’s not critical.”

Reese’s property is currently identified as part of Phase I of the county’s expansion master plan, slated to be completed by 2008.

The plan looks out several decades and, Ross said, few will be affected by the county’s plans in the short term. The county is willing to buy property within the expansion area at any time, she continued, and is already working with several willing sellers. County officials have repeatedly said they would not force homeowners to sell, even if it meant the county had to expand around them.

That attitude, said planning commissioner Fred Chang, merely creates yet another problem.

Chang said one man who spoke at last Monday’s planning commission meeting was very bothered by the notion of the county simply occupying spaces they owned and letting holdouts become little islands of residential development surrounded by seas of concrete.

At earlier meetings as well, residents have expressed concern about suddenly having parking lots for neighbors. Many have argued it doesn’t matter whether the county formally condemns their properties — the expansion will make the land unsalable anyway.

“If it’s going to be for the courthouse facilities, we can’t dicker over the price,” said resident Jess Truax at an open house the county held back in December. “We have to accept what we’re given.”

The expansion plan calls for the county to eventually occupy all the property between Dwight and Kendall streets, bordered on the west by Cline Avenue and on the east by Sidney Avenue. The expansion would take place in stages, starting with the construction of thew new public administration building on the site courthouse parking currently occupies. Replacement parking would be built on several parcels straddling Austin Avenue between Taylor and Smith streets.

Parking garages would eventually be built under buildings and on parcels of land between the existing courthouse and Sidney. The county plans to add at least 100 parking stalls every 10 years to keep up with growth, Ross said.

“Our current estimates indicate we’re now approximately 100 short,” she explained.

To complete the full expansion, the county will have to acquire between three and four dozen individual parcels, most of which now support single-family homes.

The issue of the expansion as a whole will remain with the planning commission at least through Sept. 15 — its next scheduled meeting. It will then progress to the city council for another round of public hearings, although the date for those has not yet been set.

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