County beats deadline for making CAO revisions

After four days of deliberations, the Kitsap County commissioners approved a revised Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), which will govern the size of stream buffers and consequently set the pace of county growth.

The measure was due for ratification by Thursday and the commissioners completed their deliberation before 11 a.m. that day.

The ordinance will be signed at the Dec. 19 regular commissioners meeting.

In the meantime, the county met the deadline and avoided certain sanctions if it had failed to ratify by that time.

While the deliberations were generally cordial, with all commissioners agreeing on various minor points, the ordinance passed without the support of South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. Her primary objection was to flexible buffers.

She also objected to the confusing state regulations.

“The system is broken,” Angel said. “And we have to answer to the people of Kitsap County. Until our legislators realize we have a significant problem, we’re stuck. And it will only get worse. The shoreline issues will be next, and what comes along will make this look small.”

Most of the commissioners’ decisions are unanimous, so such fraction is unusual — especially on a high-visibility issue.

North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen and Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent voted in favor of the ordinance.

The four-day sessions, which were extended as the commissioners postponed addressing the most contentious points until the end, found them following a 146-page “matrix” that had columns for the second draft, the staff draft (from which a vast majority of the final document originated) along with majority and minority opinions from the Kitsap County Planning Commission.

Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners Executive Director Vivian Henderson, who attended nearly every CAO hearing, was unwilling to make a detailed statement about the ordinance, only saying “the citizens lost, and the bureaucrats won. And with her vote, Patty Lent let down property owners.”

Lent, often considered the commission’s “swing vote,” has surprised and angered some of her supporters for her tendency to not vote along party lines.

“This is a workable ordinance,” Lent said. “I think it can be a tool for guiding growth in Kitsap County. It will help to protect the environment and will not take away property rights from landowners.”

“It’s not a perfect document,” Endresen said. “It’s very hard to balance state law, best-available science, and what people want to do with their property. I feel it is important for us to follow state law and make changes where we do not agree.”

Angel concures with that statement, although with a different end in mind.

“As a single commissioner, I cannot change the law. But I can certainly challenge it,” she said.

Vocal opposition originated from Mike Gustafson, a member of the Kitsap County Planning Commission, who, like Henderson, attended almost all of the meetings where the CAO was discussed.

Gustafson said the Planning Commission worked on the matter for two years, making painstaking recommendations that were generally ignored in the final draft.

Angel said it was important to come up with the money to monitor the CAO’s efficacy during the next twelve months, as there will be an opportunity to revise the ordinance at the end of next year.

“I think we really worked well together,” Angel said. “But we are now stuck with a law that works better for some than others.”

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