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County campus plan wins approval

In a surprising move, the Port Orchard Planning Commission has asked the city to literally rewrite its definition of community facilities zoning in an effort to reach a compromise between Kitsap County and city residents on the county campus master plan.

Commission chair Gil Michael said the planning commission was largely supportive of the county’s plans to expand around the existing county courthouse campus, now confined to the area between Sidney and Cline avenues and Dwight and Taylor streets. However, the commissioners were disturbed by the residents who said the county’s plans were making it impossible for them to get full use out of their properties.

Once the entire area between Kendall Street and Dwight is designated community facilities, as requested by the county, it would leave property owners with only two choices — stay residential or sell to the county.

“If we gave the county what they wanted, it didn’t allow private property holders the ability to develop their property privately,” Michael said.

One such property owner is already trying to make better use out of his parcel.

Developer Ron Ross, who owns the gravel parking lot that sits between Sidney and the new county jail, wants to turn his 21,500-square-foot property into a two-story office building with an in-house deli. The parking lot currently uses a special-use permit to stay in operation — the underlying property is designated residential.

Ross wants the land re-designated commercial so he can obtain commercial zoning and build his offices. However, if the county’s master plan area — which takes in Ross’ parcel — is designated community facilities, Ross’s property would have to remain a parking lot until the city withdrew the use permit and/or he sold the land to the county.

After long deliberation, the commission came up with what it believes is a compromise — give the county its community facilities designation, but change the definition to allow landowners to build county-compatible office buildings.

That, said Michael, would at least give property owners the option of building offices on their own and leasing the space back to the county as needed.

“It gives more flexibility to the area,” he said. “It also frees the county up to not have to spend the money to buy the property up and develop it themselves. It may actually save the taxpayers money.”

Ross, for one, was not thrilled by the commission’s attempt at compromise. He said the planning commission wasn’t thinking broadly enough and was being too closed-minded about his project. Ross objected to a plan that would let him put in offices but would prohibit him from completing the other half of his plan — the deli, which he said would have only been open during regular courthouse hours.

Ross pointed out the county courthouse is allowed food vendors and said he should be allowed the same privileges.

“It would have been very good for courthouse employees,” he said.

County project manager Karen Ross, who is heading up the campus project, was not available for comment.

As further conditions of its approval, the planning commission included seven other items, including:

• a stipulation that the new county buildings visually complement the existing structures. The commission was worried about mismatched building creating a visual headache for the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

• a request for the county to create an action plan to go along with its traffic analysis. Residents in the vicinity of the courthouse already complain about courthouse-related traffic and there are concerns that the problems will only get worse as the county expands.

The planning commission’s opinion is not binding, however. The final decision rests with the CIty Council, and it is unlikely to deliberate on the master plan until the end of November or later.

Because the county’s request constitutes a comprehensive plan change, however, the council must make a decision before the end of the year.

Even if the plan is approved, with whatever conditions the council chooses to apply, the only work likely to be done within the project area in the near future is the already approved new county administration building. The other proposed structures — parking areas, accessory buildings and the like — are expected to be added at a slow rate over the next 20-plus years.

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