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Critical areas regs debated

After months of confusion, the Kitsap County Department of Community Development sponsored a three-and-a-half-hour meeting in front of an overflow crowd on Wednesday night in order to explain the Critical Areas Ordinance.

The CAO regulates the size of stream buffers, which are to be increased under the new law.

“They did a good job outlining their draft,” said Elizabeth Scott, government affairs program assistant for the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County. “It’s a very scientific and technical subject, but anyone who attended the meeting now has a better idea of what it’s about.”

Scott said her constituents still have concerns about how to achieve the maximum allowable building density.

Protecting local wetlands doesn’t represent preservation for its own sake, according to DCD Director Cindy Baker. Since the county doesn’t have runoff water sources, its major drinking water source comes from groundwater.

Aside from this, the preventive action of saving wetlands will prevent future problems.

“It’s always cheaper to prevent a problem than to fix it,” Baker said. “You brush your teeth in order to prevent cavities.”

Some attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting at the Norm Dicks Government Center were annoyed by the process, which required questions to be placed on cards and read by a moderator instead of allowing direct interaction between the staff and the public. The irritation factor increased due to a pervasive alarm, which security personnel could not shut down until the meeting’s final 20 minutes.

“The county gave a performance last night,” said Vivian Henderson, executive director of the Kitsap Alliance for Property Owners. “There is a huge difference in an audience witnessing a performance and its being allowed to participate in the process.”

The time was divided between explanatory material from DCD staff and questions from the public. And even with this massive effort (presentation editing continued up to the last minute), the forum seemed to raise as many questions as it answered.

Still, the meeting’s success had a certain disadvantage. As Kitsap Association of Realtors spokesman Mike Eliason said, “No matter what they do, there will be some unhappy people.”

Currently, the DCD is handling buffer requests on a case-by-case basis and can, according to DCD wetland biologist Robbyn Myers, guide individual homeowners through the process needed in order to conserve the wetlands while completing projects.

In some cases the problem is easily fixed. “We can see something as mitigation, while the homeowner sees it as landscaping,” she said.

Kitsap County Planning Commission member Mike Gustavson still sees the CAO as a “massive land grab,” adding that most properly engineered new construction has little effect on the environment.

“If the county wants this land for buffers they should offer to purchase it,” he said.

“Property owners are the lobsters in the pot,” Henderson said.  “If they don’t mind some of their property rights being taken away today, some tomorrow, more at the next critical areas update, more when the comprehensive plan is revised, more when the countywide planning policies are updated, more with stormwater management regulations, then they don’t have anything to worry about. Those of us who are worried need to get involved now before we no longer have any rights.”

The public input with regard to the CAO continues. Two meetings, a joint meeting of the Board of County Commissioners and the Planning Commission and a final meeting where the Board of Commissioners will act on Planning Commission recommendations.

These meetings are currently unscheduled.

DCD has also established a special Web site, www.kitsapgov.com/dcd/lu_env/cao/cao.htm, on which it will provide written answers to questions collected on-line and at this week’s meeting.

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