Indigo Pointe bagged for the year

How about tacking on another 12 months to that 28?

Engineer Mark Kuhlman has been lobbying Port Orchard officials for more than two years for permission to develop an almost four-acre property into a housing development named Indigo Pointe. At last Monday’s Port Orchard City Council meeting, however, the council concluded the blizzard of last minute changes and additions to the project had become too much and sent the whole project back to the Planning Commission for further review.

Kuhlman was not happy — this latest development means Indigo Pointe will not be eligible for approval until next year’s batch of proposed comprehensive plan amendments goes before the council.

“The problem with land use is it’s an extremely complex issue,” Kuhlman said. “I do prefer the hearing examiner system.”

The challenges of the Indigo Pointe proposal are myriad. To begin with, the project’s proposed density — something slightly over eight units per acre — challenges comprehensive plan language that does not specifically allow unattached single-family homes within that density classification. The biggest issues, however, have stemmed from the site’s location near Blackjack Creek.

Under state regulations, anyone building within 200 feet of a critical habitat like a salmon stream must follow strict guidelines in terms of impervious surface percentage, natural vegetation buffers and restricted chemical use. To address these issues and others, Kuhlman had to draft a habitat management plan — the first required within city limits.

The plan went through several versions before it passed muster with the state Department of Fisheries. In it, Kuhlman eliminated one house lot at the far southeast corner of the parcel — leaving 20 buildable lots — 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 final plan limit lawns to one-fifth of each lot and prohibit the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers.

When the management plan hit the council level, however, code enforcement staff protested the chemical-use and lawn size restrictions. They said such stipulation would require staff to peek over homeowners’ fences and use other similar techniques to track compliance.

“(The regulations) aren’t a bad thing, but our ability to enforce that is limited,” said city planner Rob Wenman.

Wenman proposed making the lawn size and chemical-use provisions guidelines, rather than mandates. If the council wanted to include requirements on lawn size, he said, it could make them landscaping conditions and tie them into individual building permits — thereby moving the responsibility onto the individual homeowner.

Several on the council were not thrilled with this suggestion.

“If they have to comply, why are we making it easier for them not to comply?” asked Councilman Ron Rider. “Why are we leaving it up to the homeowners to comply, when that determines whether this habitat management plan flies or not?”

He questioned whether Fisheries would have signed off on the plan if it had been presented with Wenman’s suggested changes.

In the end, the council concluded so much new information had been introduced since the proposal left the Planning Commission, the council was in danger of violating its own rules regarding project approval. Under project approval regulations, the council is supposed to review the exact same information as was presented to the commission. Minor clarifications can be made to project proposals, but major changes must be sent back through the commission again.

“The longer I sit here listening to the discussion, the more concerned I get,” said Councilman John Clauson.

The council did opt to vote on one issue regarding Indigo Pointe that night. In response to Planning Commission concerns that the development plan presented by Kuhlman did not fit with existing comprehensive plan standards, the council voted 5-1 to make single-family detached homes allowable under R-12 zoning. Previously, the comprehensive plan had no language that said homes of that type were allowed in R-12 areas.

Even though Kuhlman’s project calls for densities slightly over those allowed under R-8 zoning, the comprehensive plan does not allow developers to round down.

Kuhlman said he expects the proposal will end up on the roster of 2004 comp plan changes. Although the would-be developer — South Kitsap resident Jim James — hoped to have approval secured before purchasing the property, he said he still had plans to move forward with the sale.

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