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Leora Park proposal angers neighbors

A complicated rezone request has South Flower Avenue residents up in arms, protesting what they see as just another over-development blow to their neighborhood.

Project representative Mark Kuhlman, in conjunction with property owners Chuck Childress and Howard and Leonard Minor, are petitioning the Port Orchard City Council for permission to reconfigure a 1.5-acre lot off Flower into eight urban-sized home lots.

The development, known as Leora Park, already contains three homes — two existing, one under construction. Kuhlman, in his presentation before the city Planning Commission Monday night, said all the applicants wanted was the chance to put in the other five houses this summer.

The fine print behind Kuhlman’s request, however, is much more complicated. Leora Park was first subdivided into eight lots back in 1965 — a time when stormwater and access issues weren’t considered at all.

In addition, the landowners want much smaller lots than those approved 40 years ago and therefore will need a rezone from R4.5 to R8; the density increase will mean a reduction of 50 percent in minimum lot sizes.

In addition, the rezone request also calls for a large portion of the existing property to be lopped off and added to another parcel adjoining it to the east. That larger parcel is proposed to become Leora Park II — essentially an extension of the first subdivision.

Kuhlman said Leora Park II is being considered separately because its proximity to Blackjack Creek means it requires exponentially more paperwork and may not end up being approved at all.

“We will not be building Leora Park II this summer,” he said. “But we can be building houses in Leora Park this summer.”

The neighbors, however, aren’t thrilled by Kuhlman’s proposal. Many said they are still suffering in the wake of Flower Meadows — Childress’ recently completed subdivision just across the street from Leora Park — and aren’t willing to have their lives disrupted this summer as well.

Several complained to the planning commission about Childress’ work practices and expressed concern that Leora Park would just be a smaller version of Flower Meadows in terms of aggravation and danger posed to the community.

“I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about the number of houses being put in there,” said neighbor Kathy Lipka. “But we would like to have something down about traffic ... safety ... and noise. These issues are not being addressed.”

Lipka said her 12-year-old grandson, Justin, was almost run over by Flower Meadows construction workers on several occasions. Justin, speaking for himself before the planning commission, said one of the workers even appeared to aim for him while he was walking along Flower coming to and from his bus stop.

Lipka said, at a minimum, the workers didn’t watch out for pedestrians while driving and didn’t consider the safety of other drivers when parking or turning their equipment in the street.

Numerous complaints to the contractor and supervisors went unaddressed, she said.

“Nothing is being done to monitor these people while they are there,” Lipka said. “You have a lot of construction workers that weren’t paying attention.”

Resident Christine Sanders, whose property abuts Leora Park, also expressed concerns about pedestrian safety but aimed most of her criticism at Childress himself.

She said Childress’ documented failure to adequately water exposed dirt in Flower Meadows during the summer caused her family extreme distress. The blowing dust aggravated her children’s asthma and allergy problems, Sanders aid, and even caused one child to stop breathing as a result.

She said she has no confidence Childress will change his methods before beginning work on Leora Park.

“Why should we let him have a second project when we’re still dealing with the first one?” Sanders asked.

Sanders, among others, were also bothered that Leora Park II, a 16- or 17-unit subdivision was not being included in the discussion.

Although technically a second project, maps indicate the two will appear virtually seamless after completion — both will be served by Leora Park’s road and, to a certain extent, share stormwater handling facilities. Sanders in particular was concerned the projects would result in the removal of numerous large trees and endanger other growing on her property.

She said cutting down the trees, apart from the aesthetic impact to the community, would also increase sound levels by leaving the neighborhood more open to noise coming from nearby State Route 16.

There were also concerns about the extra traffic he two Leora projects would bring to Flower — a road still well below minimum city standards in many areas, including width.

“We only have one access point out of this neighborhood,” Sanders said. “We’re already having traffic problems.”

Kuhlman agreed to discuss with South Kitsap School District the possibility of relocating the school bus stop and said none of the landowners would object to an increased police presence during construction.

He pointed out Flower is within the city limits and, in accordance with the city’s comprehensive plan, should be developed at urban densities regardless of what the neighbors would prefer. Kuhlman also said construction vehicles could be restricted to parking on-site to allay traffic safety concerns and even proposed putting up a stop sign where Flower intersects Fireweed Road to help slow cars down.

The planning commissioners, however, seemed to think the applicants needed to offer a little more in the way of concrete assurances. Commissioner Tadina Crouch proposed requiring the applicants to install a covered bus shelter to further protect waiting children.

Commissioner Fred Chang said the applicants should also consider establishing on-site contacts authorized to handle traffic problems and neighbor complaints.

“Someone who can take some responsibility for construction standards,” Chang explained. “Because this is a concern we’ve heard, not just tonight.”

The planning commission will continue its deliberations on the Leora Park proposal at its next regular meeting, scheduled for May 17.

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