South Kitsap parks district pushes for master plan

While interested investors and business owners wait in the background, the South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District is trying to hammer out a master plan that would allow its board of directors some guidance in approving new activities and development plans for South Kitsap Community Park.

The district has declared a moratorium on all new contracts until the commissioners can figure out where they want the park to go in the future. Over the last year or so, the board has heard multiple and often conflicting offers from people wanting to put in recreation centers, disc golf courses and even a renaissance fair. The board finally decided to give itself some breathing room in order to look at the park objectively and form some umbrella goals for the facility, rather than making decisions one applicant at a time.

Last Wednesday night was the first of perhaps a half-dozen public meetings the parks board is holding on the plan — meetings meant to solicit public feedback and give the board the broadest possible base of perspective from which to work.

“This is round one of many rounds,” said board chair, Commissioner Larry Walker.

The Wednesday planning session was a little disorganized — the 10 or so attendees milled around the room scribbling suggestions onto a series of taped-up sheets of easel paper — but appeared to follow the general path Walker had hoped for. Although feedback for three of the four topics — public involvement, park assets, revenue and land use — was light, Walker’s pet topic, land use, generated the vast majority of interest.

Referring to land use and infrastructure as “the most important thing we look at tonight,” Walker said he planned to spend the next few weeks at the county courthouse researching the dozens of questions and suggestions submitted on the topic.

Commissioner John Palo also spent a lot of time talking up the importance of land use planning and research, work he said the parks board needed to do before addressing any other topic.

“What we want to do with that property and what we’re allowed to do may be two different things,” he pointed out.

Although the 350-acre park is controlled by the parks district, half of it is owned by the county and parts of it are under the jurisdiction of Annapolis Water DIstrict and perhaps other unknown utilities.

The Department of Natural Resources, which sold the county its half, may also retain lingering influence in the form of use restrictions. By finding out what strings are still attached to the park, Palo said, the board will be doing a lot to avoid future hassles and unnecessary expense.

It would be a real pity, he said, if the park built a rec center and then had it “wiped out” because Puget Sound Energy had easement rights and wanted to put in high-voltage power lines.

Most of the comments from the citizens who attended, however, centered around park management, rather than new projects. Park volunteer Joan Lutz asked if the district had a disaster management plan that could be implemented in case of fire or other natural emergency.

Chuck Jeu, who has launched his own effort to build a recreation center in the park, said the district needed to delegate responsibilities better. He said every other public agency has a board of directors or commissioners to make policy decisions and an administrator or superintendent to handle “nuts and bolts” issues.

The parks district, Jeu said, needs a system like that as well.

A top concern among board members, park tenants and citizens alike was ensuring the master plan got finished in a timely manner and was subject to regular review and updates. Lutz pressed the board to set a deadline by which the master plan had to be completed, rather than a general estimate of four to six months.

“Otherwise, people get stagnant and put it off,” she said.

The parks board appeared to agree with her concerns and plans to discuss setting a completion date at its next regular meeting, scheduled for June 10. The next master planning meeting is scheduled for June 23, although the time and place has not yet been established.

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