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Bethel annex talks heat up

The Port Orchard City Council will meet with Kitsap County commissioners today in hopes of clearing any obstacles for the annexation of the Bethel Corridor into the city.

After years of promises, both the city and the county finally seem to be on the same page.

In a series of letters this week, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola said the city and the county were important strategic partners in South Kitsap’s future, while South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido promised the two entities “can work through many of the policy questions for the betterment of both jurisdictions.”

The development of Bethel Road, which is one of the most active commercial spots in South Kitsap, has been under discussion since the mid-1990s. It was stalled for a long period but has recently seen a spurt of activity, as Port Orchard announced the intention to extend the city limits to include the area.

The annexation efforts began in earnest after Coppola took office and supported the notion that the county had not addressed the development of the corridor in a timely manner.

On several occasions Coppola stated that newer projects in Central Kitsap were completed by the county, while South Kitsap received the short end of the development stick.

“The county has had 20 years to do something about this,” Coppola said at a recent study session. “But it has spent all of its money on projects in Central Kitsap. It’s gridlock out there, and the county hasn’t done anything to fix it. We are just tired of waiting around.”

While the county commissioners have always been in the loop since annexation talk heated up, it was only within the past week they became intimately involved.

On March 17, Garrido visited the Port Orchard City Council, saying that she had some concerns about the process as it was proceeding. After this, the dialog has proceeded at hyperspeed, relative to the previous pace.

An agenda item on the March 23 county commissioners’ meeting suggested that the county would take the matter to the Boundary Review Board, to perhaps begin a challenge to the annexation. The primary concern was the transfer of services, as well as the idea that county land could be surrounded by that under city jurisdiction.

Coppola appeared at that meeting during the public comment segment, asking the commissioners to not invoke jurisdiction “so we can settle the matter between ourselves.”

The item was removed from the agenda, and today’s meeting was scheduled on Wednesday.

“The Bethel Corridor has been envisioned as a component of future growth of Port Orchard as early as 1998,” Coppola said. “I hope you will support your citizens’ desire to implement these plans.”

While expressing a desire to work in cooperation with the county, Coppola noted that Port Orchard had never received any written correspondence from the county regarding the annexation. The following day, Coppola received a one-page letter from Garrido, setting four conditions that if met by the city would discourage the county from invoking jurisdiction.

According to Garrido’s letter, these specifics include the intent to adopt a proactive annexation plan and policy for the area, the establishment of logical boundaries, collaboration for the transfer of services and an annexation timeline.

Coppola prepared a response to Garrido, which he hoped to deliver on Wednesday. In any case, these four topics are the most likely agenda items for today’s meeting.

“We’re ready, and the county’s ready,” Port Orchard Development Director James Weaver said of the annexation. “All the issues about the provision of urban services are under control. The only issue is police protection, and our chief of police has said he is willing to meet with the sheriff to discuss those concerns.”

Today’s meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the commissioners’ chambers in Port Orchard. It is open to the public, and there will (not) be an opportunity to speak.

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