More questions about Indigo Pointe

Despite three solid hours of testimony and debate, the Port Orchard City Council appears no nearer to a decision on Indigo Pointe than it was last month.

At developer Mark Kuhlman’s request, the council added discussion of the proposed housing development to Monday night’s special session agenda — a meeting usually devoted solely to the annual budget hearings.

Kuhlman’s hope was that the council would have enough time to review the project thoroughly and then sign off on it before the end of the year.

In a bid to cement his goal, Kuhlman held the microphone for a full hour and a half, covering every possible aspect to the project that could invite questions and reassuring the council at length that he had taken all possible precautions with the design.

“Indigo Pointe has been an interesting project for us,” Kuhlman said. “It’s been an interesting learning experience as well — this site caused us to face up to some challenges we had never faced before.”

The primary reason the 20-home proposed development has been in the works for more than 28 months is due to the site’s proximity to Blackjack Creek. The southwest corner of the parcel falls within the 200-foot buffer of the stream and/or Dogfish Creek — one of its feeders.

As a result, the entire proposal is required to follow strict environmental rules and must adhere to a habitat management plan — an outline for ensuring the project has minimal impact on the areas around it.

Such restrictions are rare within city limits, or even within urban growth areas. In fact, no project in Port Orchard has ever needed a habitat management plan before — a fact that is making Indigo Pointe twice as hard for city officials to work with.

“With salmon as the endangered species, it’s not so simple,” Kuhlman said. “We found it difficult to define the problem and then to get the proper mitigation for the problem.”

The proposal he presented Monday night included a fresh management plan reportedly approved by the state Department of Fisheries. In it, he eliminated one house lot at the far southeast corner of the parcel and added more native vegetation buffers.

Now, tracts of wild land take up 29,770 square feet of the nearly four-acre property — a land mass equivalent to 150 percent of the habitat management area contained within the parcel.

Other rules contained in the new plan limit lawns to one-fifth of each lot and prohibit the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. Kuhlman also plans to install special enhanced-infiltration downspouts on every house to further offset the increase in impervious surface on the site.

“We’re very, very close to maintaining pre-development infiltration rates,” he said.

The City Council, however, was not wholly convinced by Kuhlman’s presentation. The major problem most council members had with the proposal involved enforcement. Kuhlman suggested educating the homeowners on habitat management standards and their responsibilities in those areas, then establish a homeowners association and make it responsible for enforcing those standards.

The problem, many city officials pointed out, is that the city is ultimately responsible for making sure rules get followed. If the homeowners association is lax or if the homeowners simply won’t comply, it is then up to city code enforcement to force compliance.

City Engineer Larry Curles, who oversees code enforcement, said because the nature of the regulations involved private matters like lawn size, landscaping and maintenance products, it would be very difficult for his staff to do any enforcement work without sneaking around and peeking over peoples’ fences.

“Please don’t have our city staff going in there and telling people how to do their landscaping — they won’t be treated well,” he said, addressing the council.

Another major concern of the council had nothing to do with either habitat management or enforcement.

The planning commission, after reviewing the project, opted to recommend denial for the rezone because Kuhlman’s plan — according to the commissioners — violated comprehensive plan rules regarding medium density development.

The commission, in its official recommendation, said the comp plan allows 12-unit-per-acre development only when the homes are attached, like townhouses.

Although Kuhlman’s development averages out at just over eight units per acre, the “just over” requires him to ask for R12 zoning.

Kuhlman’s project, said the commission, involves single-family detached homes and is therefore inappropriate for R12 zoning.

As would be expected, Kuhlman disagrees vehemently with this interpretation of the comp plan.

The council, unable to get a clear answer on the controversy, ended up assigning the city attorney to thoroughly research the question and establish whose interpretation of the code was correct.

The whole issue has been continued to the Dec. 22 council meeting, although public comment on the topic has ended. At that meeting, the council plans to make a final decision on the rezone question, plus address the somewhat thornier issues of maintaining the ecological standards established by the development and managing the project’s impact on its neighbors during construction.

“I wouldn’t like to see us approving ordinances we can’t enforce,” said Councilman Don Morrison.

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