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Commissioners delay decision on crematorium

The Kitsap County commissioners have delayed a decision as to whether construction of a proposed Bremerton crematorium can continue.

The matter will be addressed at a decision-only meeting with staff input to be held at 10 a.m. March 21.

“It went as well as it could be expected,” said petitioner Kent Kass of the decision.

On the other hand, Bremerton attorney Ron Templeton expressed discontent with the process.

“I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to make my entire presentation,” he said.

But Templeton declined to provide the points that he was forced to omit, saying he could not do so off of the top of his head.

During the hearing, Templeton and two other attorneys were allotted a total of 30 minutes to present their case, while the Kass’ attorney Dennis Reynolds made his argument in half that time.

Those against the construction were out in force, while the Kasses had no one on their side except for their own lawyer. A battery of three lawyers argued against the facility with a variety of legal arguments that boiled down to a single assertion — a crematorium is not an appropriate facility for a residential neighborhood, where the idea of death staring the community in the face could be psychologically damaging to young children.

The decision is the latest stop on the long and winding road toward approval of the facility. Kass first made overtures to purchase the land in March 2004 and received assurances from the Department of Community Development that no additional site plan review would be required.

This changed over the summer, as neighborhood protests commenced with the notion that the location was not an appropriate place for a crematorium.

The Kasses were given the green light to renovate the 4,000-square-foot facility by a Kitsap County Hearing Examiner last fall. The citizens’ group has appealed that decision to the commissioners.

Should one party not accept the county’s decision, the matter could end up in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Local public agencies have taken a proactive stand against the building, with both the city of Bremerton and the Bremerton School District sending attorneys to argue against the project, and the citizens’ group has vocally opposed the project since its announcement.

While the attorneys argued passionately, there were also some factual disputes. Templeton said the facility would cremate 1,500 corpses each year and operate six days a week.

Reynolds, however, said the actual numbers were much lower, projecting only about 130 cremations will occur each year. Saying he “had never done this before,” Reynolds ceded his allotted time to his clients to offer them an opportunity to speak for themselves. At this time, Tess Kass blamed the county’s disorganization for the mixup, saying the purchase of the building was completed after assurances were made from the county saying they would not have to meet any additional requirements.

“We’ve spent $500,000 of our own money and our names have been dragged through the media,” she said. “Your department made a mistake, and you should take responsibility for this.”

Prior to suggesting the delay, South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said she needed more time to study the matter.

“I want to apologize for the delay, especially to the Kasses,” she said. “The process is the problem. I think a lot of these laws are confusing and vague.”

Added North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen, “In a lot of these cases where a hearing examiner’s decision is appealed, we’re told to send it up to Superior Court. But if we do that, we never know if the code is working and how it is being administered.”

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