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Commercial campus plan draws fire

The residents of a cluster of dead-end streets on the outskirts of Port Orchard are up in arms over a proposal to turn a significant part of their neighborhood into highway/tourist-type commercial development.

Currently, the southern end of Sherman Avenue — and the backyards of many Echo Court homes — opens onto vast grassy fields. State Route 16 sits on the other side of those fields, but the residents of that area say their neighborhood is still a safe, quiet, family-friendly place to raise kids. Commercial development, many say, would ruin the entire character of the place they call home.

“Unspoiled is what we have right now,” said resident Frank Q. Picha, who is leading the fight against the proposed commercial “invasion.”

Technically, the project the residents fear is still in its very early stages even though, as the landowners point out, the concept has been in the works for more than 40 years at this point.

Landowner/developer Alex Roland, speaking for the entire Roland family, said the whole purpose of the proposed commercial development is to bring economic growth to Port Orchard. The 50-acre property the family owns — located across from McDonalds in the elbow of SR 16 and Sedgwick Road — constitutes what Roland considers to be one of the best retail locations in the entire county. It also serves as the main “gateway” to Port Orchard, he added, and should be treated as such.

“I think Port Orchard has been underestimated and underrated for a long time now,” Roland said. “I think our little neck of the woods is going to start looking a lot more attractive (to businesses).”

Roland hopes to turn the grasslands in question into a cluster of commercial/retail businesses, possibly even attracting such “big box” retailers as Home Depot. He said he believes the stores that chose Gig Harbor over Port Orchard as the place to open new outlets are probably having second thoughts at this point.

Port Orchard, Roland said, is a much better market for places like Home Depot than Gig Harbor could ever be.

“People in Gig Harbor don’t buy $10, $15 light fixtures,” he said. “They buy $200 light fixtures and pay someone to put them in.”

There are some obstacles to be jumped over first, though. The area Roland wants to develop and most of the neighbors want to protect in currently zoned low-density residential — a zoning that matches its present city comprehensive plan designation.

To open the door for his project, Roland is trying to get the comp plan designation changed to commercial.

This is also the same move the neighbors have vowed to fight tooth and nail.

“Most of (the fight) started with disbelief ... that this could even be considered,” Picha said. “That’s a significant jump — from residential 4.5 to commercial.”

Picha said the neighbors aren’t necessarily anti-growth — it’s just that they always expected the growth to take the form of new houses, not stores. He said many in the area are concerned about the potential impact to Blackjack Creek — which the proposed development site straddles — and to their own dead-end streets.

“It’s a given that they’re going to use those little, narrow roads we live on to get equipment in and out,” Picha said. “There were three people (I talked to) who said they would flat-out move (if the project went in).”

He said the whole neighborhood is preparing to mobilize as soon as the proposal goes into public hearings and hinted they are also making preparations to appeal if it becomes necessary.

Roland, however, said the project is intended to be a benefit to the city, not a drain. He said he is himself a fan of Blackjack’s wild character and plans to do whatever it takes to preserve it. Roland said he envisions offering benches and paths that would allow schoolkids to take nature walks down to the stream.

The rest of the development, he said, would be designed to offer passing motorists an attractive, inviting first glimpse of Port Orchard — not a sea of concrete.

“We don’t want to throw up a bunch of ugly buildings,” Roland said. “We want something Port Orchard citizens can be proud of.”

The matter will hit the city Planning Commission first, at its next regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 20. From there, the proposed comp plan amendment will go to the City Council for approval. Although the deadline for this year’s comp plan changes is fast approaching, Roland said he’s hoping to get the re-designation taken care of now so he can move onto the necessary rezoning requests.

After 40 years, he said, he’s ready to pick up the pace on this project.

“I have the feeling it’ll happen shortly — within the next few years,” Roland said.

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