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Big tree sends Flower project back for review

Citing problems with the developer’s significant tree retention plan, the Port Orchard City Council last week voted unanimously to send the proposed Flower Meadows North re-zone back to the Planning Commission for further review.

Developer Mark Kuhlman was obviously taken aback by the council’s issues with his tree plan.

“I wasn’t going to have anything to say,” Kuhlman said. “The Planning Commission, the staff report was very correct.”

Ironically, Kuhlman is not asking for permission to cut down a single one of the five significant trees on the 1.39-acre site.

His tree plan instead focuses on a huge Douglas fir that sits right on a property line between two proposed houses.

Under the city’s significant tree plan, all significant trees — defined as any tree with a greater-than-18-inch diameter — in a development must be allotted a protection radius equal to one foot for every inch of diameter. The fir in question is 45 inches thick and therefore would require a 45-foot protection radius.

This, said Kuhlman, plays havoc with the layout of his eight-unit proposed development.

“The lots are only 75 feet wide,” he pointed out.

Kuhlman wants the council to approve a 30-foot protective radius — the approximate width of the tree’s “drip line.” He said a county-approved arborist looked at the tree and confirmed a 30-foot radius would be enough to keep the tree happy and healthy. Kuhlman pointed out it’s in his best interest to keep the tree safe because an unstable tree of that size would be a real turnoff for any potential client looking to buy one of his homes nearby.

“What we are asking for is one deviation from what the zoning code requires,” he said.

Nevertheless, city attorney Loren Combs said Kuhlman didn’t follow proper procedure in bringing the deviation request before the council. Apparently, Kuhlman had dropped off the addition just before the meeting began and Combs repeatedly emphasized that the city was legally bound to require more than a few hours advance notice of such a major change.

“Two and a half hours before a council meeting starts is not a timely request,” he said.

When the plan comes back before the council sometime next year — Planning Commission chair Gil Michael said it likely won’t make it on the commission’s agenda until January at the earliest — other issues will be hashed out at well.

The council talked at length about the need to bring Flower Street up to city standards, now that it has become the target of intense development.

When Flower Street was first built, it served only a very small group of homes. Even though the population along the street is now set to increase exponentially over the next few years, the road remains narrow and in poor repair.

Flower Meadows, the first major development on the street, was not required to do any improvements to Flower because developer Chuck Childress demonstrated to the city that the new homes would not create a significant impact to the street. Kuhlman’s project only involves eight homes — a fraction of Flower Meadows’ — but city staff believe the edge between no impact and significant impact is fast approaching.

“At what point do we say: ‘OK, enough development until you bring that road up to standard?’ ” asked Councilman Don Morrison.

The council is worried the “last straw” development — the one that necessitates upgrades to Flower — will end up being a tiny subdivision unable to bear the cost of improving the whole road. Standard improvements typically include widening the road, installing sidewalks and gutters and perhaps even paying for a traffic light.

It is unclear how these concerns will affect Flower Meadows North, however. As city planner Rob Wenman pointed out, the council can’t exactly make Kuhlman shell out on the assumption that unspecified development is coming.

“You can’t make this property pay into a proportional share (on the improvements) unless you can be sure what the ultimate cost will be,” he said.

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