City sees mini-centers as key to state funds

In an effort to make itself a better target for state transportation dollars this year, Port Orchard is trying to establish three centers of planned growth within the city limits.

It could be argued the city already supports such centers — downtown Bay Street, South Kitsap Mall and the Olney Albertson’s plaza, to name three. However, to have those centers recognized by the state, the city must undergo a process through the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and the Puget Sound Regional Council to have its centers formally identified as such. The problem the Port Orchard City Council now faces is deciding which areas would most benefit from additional transportation funding and determining how big the designated growth areas should be.

The city is working under a tight deadline. In order to get its centers in for consideration this year, the city must have its proposals done and forwarded to the KRCC by May 4. The PSRC will then review the applications and make a decision at the end of May.

If the applications don’t go through this year, the city will have to wait until 2006 to try again for a piece of the multi-million-dollar pot. KRCC officials report $3.91 million for roads and $630,000 for non-motorized projects such as bike lanes is up for grabs this year.

The issue of where to put centers is not a simple one to resolve. The KRCC and the PSRC tend to see centers in terms of circles radiating out from an obvious focal point, such as a shopping center or an industrial park. Thanks to the local topography and the city’s irregular boundaries, the concept of a center defined by a circle is difficult to imagine.

“When you draw perfect circles ... it doesn’t fit,” said City Councilman John Clauson, pointing out one of the proposed centers in downtown takes in a lot of water and residential housing, but leaves out a large chunk of the business corridor.

The areas proposed by city planner Rob Wenman as good candidates for center designation include:

• a half-mile-radius circle surrounding the South Kitsap Mall;

• a half-mile-radius circle taking in the South Kitsap Industrial Park, the Tremont interchange at State Route 16 and bits of Group Health and Harrison Hospital Urgent Care off Tremont Street; and,

• a combined center taking in everything within a quarter-mile of City Hall, plus the Kitsap County Courthouse Campus off Sidney Avenue.

The South Kitsap Mall site is proposed as a mixed-use center focusing on commercial and residential uses, while the downtown center would also include the KItsap Transit Hub at Sidney Dock. The Tremont interchange site would focus on both employment and community services.

The areas also serve a strategic importance because they open Tremont up to potential state assistance — transportation funds go to not just centers, but the corridors that connect them.

Tremont, which is badly in need of widening between Port Orchard Boulevard and SR-16, has been on the city’s to-do list for year. And with an estimated project price tag of $something$, the city needs outside help to get the job done.

No one on the City Council appeared to object to the Tremont center when the options were presented to the full council Monday night. However, several council members had questions and, in some cases, complaints about the downtown and South Kitsap Mall centers.

Clauson expressed concerns over the downtown center’s exclusion of the east end of Bay Street. He pointed out all the work that’s recently gone on at Westbay Shopping Center and hinted the city would be doing Westbay a major disservice by leaving it out. Clauson proposed turning the perfect circle into an elongated oval that included all of Bay Street from Port Orchard Boulevard to Westbay.

“The entire downtown is pedestrian-oriented and one we should be focusing on for development,” he said.

Councilman Rick Wyatt favored targeting the old Kmart/Olney Albertson’s plaza for mixed-use development instead of South Kitsap Mall. Wyatt, who lives and owns a business down the street from the twin plazas, said the area better represented a mix of high-density residential and commercial and also offered more opportunities for growth.

The area surrounding the mall, he noted, is heavily riddled with streams and wetlands that would likely inhibit future development.

“It seems that (Olney) would be the more logical location for a center, unless you could have a twin center,” Wyatt said.

Wenman said both Clauson’s and Wyatt’s proposals could possibly be accommodated — most of the criteria presented are flexible right now and likely won’t be codified by the KRCC until later in the year.

“Generally, PSRC has been supportive of our definition of centers,” he said.

Councilwoman Rita DiIenno, however, objected to the timing of the discussion and pointed out the material before the council was almost entirely the creation of Wenman, with a little help from the KRCC.

She said the council’s growth management committee had tried to review the proposed centers before they went before the council but was crippled by a lack of information.

“Tonight’s the first night I’ve heard anything about (size) criteria,” DiIenno said.

In response to DiIenno’s concerns, the council voted unanimously to send the centers material back to the growth management committee so the members could review it more thoroughly and come back with a recommendation at the council’s April 26 meeting.

Resident Ron Rice, who owns a business in the unofficial commercial center at the crossroads of Sidney and Sedgwick Road, asked the committee to also consider firming up language in the centers proposal that discussed “promoting” and “encouraging” growth.

“I’d really like that to be a little more nuts and bolts,” Rice said. “The nebulous buzzwords... don’t mean a thing to me.”

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