County campus plan debated

The Port Orchard City Council wrangled over it from 7:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday and, in the end, still couldn’t decide what to do.

The Kitsap County Courthouse Master Plan, created at the city’s request, has become a shooting gallery for conflicting interests. The county wants to expand its current quarters on Division Street without paying a fortune to do so. The residents of the area slated for expansion complain they are being railroaded into selling to the county at artificially deflated prices.

The city just wants the plan done with a minimum of residual hard feelings.

The plan, which looks 40 years out, calls for the county to build new parking lots and buildings in the area between the existing jail and Givens Community Center. The expansion will be done in phases, with the last phase on Kendall Street not slated for completion much before 2050. The first phase, limited to the area between the courthouse and Sidney Avenue and selected property immediately south of the campus, is expected to be done within the next five or so years.

If approved, the plan will result in a change to the city’s comprehensive plan that creates a public facilities overlay for the entire area in question.

The major bone of contention in the master plan has to do with what property owners in the expansion area will be allowed to do with their properties between now and when the county finally needs the land.

The planning commission, after listening to hours of protests from those affected, proposed allowing properties within the master plan area to develop office-type commercial buildings at their owners’ discretion. The county vehemently opposes this plan because it more more than triple the value of the property it would eventually have to buy.

“Allowing mixed-use zoning would result in real estate speculation,” said County Executive Malcolm Fleming. “This would be costly to the county ... force it to pay inflated prices.”

The standoff between the county and the residents has been exacerbated recently as the county has begun buying up properties in its Phase I expansion area. Although many property owners have willingly sold, others have flatly refused to deal, saying the county was offering them ridiculously low prices for their land.

As a result, the county is now looking at patchwork development blocks — county-owned chunks interspersed with privately owned parcels. One such assortment in the western part of the expansion area will force the county to build “Z-shaped” parking lots.

Karen Ross, project manager for the master plan, is optimistic about the odd-shaped lot, but the neighbors are not.

“It is not fair to residents who will be surrounded by whatever the county wants to build,” said John Lackey, who lives on Smith Street.

Lackey also pointed out the master plan is wholly dependent on the county being able to develop all of Phase I before moving on to Phase II. If the county has to build around people, he said, it will reduce the density possible in the each block and make it necessary for the county to move on to other phases ahead of schedule.

In addition, Lackey continued, the master plan makes no consideration for what will happen if the county can’t buy all the property it needs to expand. Private homes in a block designated a parking lot is a minor problem; private homes in a block slated to become a building might be an insurmountable obstacle, he said.

“I would like to see the effort on urban planning, not what properties the county can get the cheapest,” Lackey said. “I’d like to see the project built as per the master plan.”

Councilman Ron Rider said, given those issues, giving residents the right to put in office buildings made the most sense. Not only would such a move reduce the impact to residents by giving them a third option beyond sell or stay, he said, it might actually save the county money by allowing it to rent space in buildings others had built.

“There’s a lot of concern with people in the area that they might not be able to do with their property what they wish,” Rider said.

Others disagreed.

Councilman John Clauson said allowing other developers to come in could actually make adhering to the master plan harder, not easier. He pointed out one of the key elements of the plan was the additional parking it called for _ parking that would alleviate the existing problems and keep up with future county growth.

Clauson doubted many developers would choose to put in a parking lot when an office building was a much more lucrative investment. He was concerned that developers would take advantage of the county’s position and develop in such a way that they would milk the county for as much money as they could get.

“Governments have a pretty narrow course to follow when it comes to buying property,” Clauson said.

City attorney Loren Combs finally asked the council members to give him a list of their concerns and said he would research the issues at stake during normal business hours. He said he would be able to draw up a carefully worded amendment, if needed, that could allow residents to develop their properties but would still take the county’s needs into account.

He also pointed out all comprehensive plan amendments can be changed at the city’s discretion and even the master plan could be revised of the city found it wasn’t working as expected. Combs asked for the city to at least table the issue for now to allow him and the city staff time to bring back some more palatable options than the ones thus far discussed.

“I think it’s better than sitting here at 10 o’clock at night, trying to redo what other people have spent two years doing,” he said. “This is a tough decision.”

The council ultimately agreed, voting 4-1 to table the matter. The next time the council may potentially discuss the master plan is at its next regular council meeting Nov. 24.

Because the public hearing was officially closed Monday, no further testimony will be accepted.

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