McCormick debate grinds to a halt

Kitsap County’s ever-changing land-use application protocol is under fire from residents of McCormick Woods struggling to give community input on plans for the potential future development of McCormick North Phases I and II.

The recent decision by Kitsap County Hearing Examiner Keith McGoffin to approve the development surprised the more than 300 residents of McCormick Woods who believed months of debate and public input might have swayed the recommendation’s wording on key points.

“We’ve got a lot of people who want to appeal,” said Karla McArdle, a McCormick Woods homeowner since 1998 and facilitator of a Web site created by residents to help educate other residents on the complicated land application process — without the dense language.

Some residents are outraged their concerns were not taken more seriously. One resident wrote in a letter to the Hearing Examiner, “I am convinced that the plan is ill-conceived, deeply flawed and will have a devastating impact on the area. The number of homes being proposed...will overwhelm the area, overtax the road system and the infrastructure needed to support the population and completely change the character of the community.”

Since Kitsap County in 2003 approved a plan that will allow 4,172 homes in a combined urban village of McCormick Woods, McCormick North and McCormick West, McArdle has done her homework.

“Negotiations and meetings that have been held on the sidelines have created confusion and constantly changing information gives no time for public review or input. Public trust is being violated in order to accommodate private interests,” said McArdle, a self-described housewife who made it her business to educate herself and her neighbors as soon as she discovered the plans for expansion.

As residents began preparing to appeal the decision using the instructions given by the Kitsap County Department of Community Development (DCD), they were even more surprised to learn the Hearing Examiner's decision was not, in fact, a decision at all.

In an effort to eliminate excessive red tape on the part of the Kitsap County Department of Community Development (DCD), the Hearing Examiner’s Office and the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, the eight applications that constitute the McCormick North application were processed together.

Rather than being approved by the Hearing Examiner and appealed to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, this application will go straight to the board for final approval and must be appealed to Superior Court.

According to the DCD’s report and recommendation to the Hearing Examiner, “It is appropriate to streamline to process to eliminate the potential for confusion and procedural complications. Accordingly, Kitsap County (and) McCormick Land Co. ...have agreed to a process whereby each application is reviewed together, first by DCD with recommendations to the hearing examiner, next by the Hearing Examiner with an open record public hearing and recommendations to the Board, and then by the Board for final review and approval.”

According to Kitsap County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Nickel, who represents the County in legal disputes, the streamlining made the most sense because the application would have had to go to the board anyway.

“Part of the problem is that this type of Master Plan application is a fairly new process — I believe that this is the first one in Kitsap County,” Nickel said. “It’s such a big project that it’s unusual.”

Nickel said the county does not have the time to do the outreach and education that would be required for the public to understand the entire unfamiliar process. She disputes the rumor that the streamlining process was adopted to speed up the application’s approval.

“It certainly wasn’t the intent to make it go fast,” Nickel said. “It just made more sense to put everything together. The process has actually been going on for years and years. It’s just gotten more detailed.”

Even for McArdle, who has been analyzing every document on the subject she can come across for the past year, the change in plans is confusing.

Sitting at her kitchen table, with piles and piles of loose paper and documents around her and a highlighter in her hand, she is adamant the county’s intent to make the process easier has only made it more complex because the public was not informed.

“The complex process of this planning effort has hindered our legal right to ‘early and continuous public participation,’ ” McArdle said. “Though county documents state that the process has been streamlined to ‘eliminate the potential for confusion and procedural complications,’ the opposite has occurred.”

More than 300 McCormick Woods residents’ signatures were collected in two days in preparation for the public hearing in front of the Hearing Examiner, protesting the developer’s plans regarding parks and recreation, transportation, impact fees and site design.

McArdle gave her testimony, reading it from a sheet of paper she later turned over to the clerk during the hearing.

When the recommendation was published, she and several others who had testified quickly discovered their testimony had been shortened, condensed and was at times entirely inaccurate.

“Our testimony was changed,” McArdle said. “I think it minimizes our testimony. People who want to participate in the public process are discouraged to do so because it doesn’t mean anything.”

McArdle said residents plan to appeal just two specific points of the recommendation if it’s approved by the board: the alleged faulty public participation process and the plan to create an additional homeowners association that will encompass the whole McCormick Urban Village.

One of the conditions of the Master Plan is that in addition to neighborhood homeowners associations, one large association be created to include all eventual 4,172 homeowners in McCormick Urban Village, allegedly for the purpose of monitoring “regional facilities.”

The condition already recommended to the board by the Hearing Examiner states, “The overall village plan includes one homeowners association created for each residential development, and then one larger homeowners association encompassing the entire Urban Village to manage more regional facilities.”

McArdle has qualms about the idea that a public entity can force residents into a private partnership, especially one where they would be required to pay additional dues.

As McArdle understands it and explains on the Web site, the recommendation is that all the parks and major trails be under one parks management system to spread the cost of management (and liability) over more homeowners in all the neighborhoods of the Village.

This might be created as the “McCormick Village Parks and Recreation Association.” At the same, there would still be separate Associations for the internal “common areas” in each development. For instance, the landscape buffers in McCormick Woods would still be maintained by the McCormick Woods Association. Mary McCormick Memorial Park, however, may be owned and managed by the new Parks and Recreation Association.

Negotiations continue between residents and the McCormick Land Co. McArdle is still at her table most afternoons, highlighter in hand, though now she is researching precedents. She said she knows the application will be approved and she is prepared to work with developers, but she is standing strong on the points of a future appeal.

She was excited to discover an appeal filed in 1995 by Whidbey Environmental Action Network against Island County and heard before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board. The Board found that Island County had violated the Growth Management Act which requires “early and continuous public participation.”

“Residents should have a major influence on the direction of a proposed development that will impact every aspect of their lives,” McArdle said. “It’s heartening to know that somebody somewhere has won.”

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