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SK Montessori school owner appeals permit denial

The owner of a South Kitsap Montessori school is appealing a decision by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner that determined her business would bring too much noise, traffic and other disruption to its surroundings.

Annette Weaver, the owner and operator of Montessori Farmhouse, said it was a “lifelong dream” for her and her husband to start a Montessori school, and they began classes in 2006 at what she believed was “the perfect location” — six acres of land along Bethel-Burley Road that has a garden, stream and nearby woods.

However, many of her neighbors did not agree, telling Hearing Examiner Ted Hunter last month they worried the children would make a lot of noise, do damage to the surrounding habitat and that it would be dangerous having so many cars pulling in and out of the school’s location.

Weaver said she was surprised by the residents’ statements, explaining that in the past three years she had not received any complaints and had checked in regularly with at least the two closest neighbors to see if they had concerns.

Weaver said after her conditional use permit was denied, she hired a lawyer and filed an appeal. Since then, she said, she received word from the county that it was recommending mediation, which she found encouraging.

“I’m hoping there will be a good solution, and we can accommodate the neighbors,” she said.

Weaver said she chose the location for the school because “it is a happy, peaceful place for learning ... with a stream through the back of the property, a large enclosed grassy yard for the children to play in and a vegetable garden just outside the classroom.”

Since she envisioned the school as “an environmentally-based Montessori educational program” that teaches children to be independent and have respect for themselves, other people and nature, having the children so close to woods and wildlife is ideal.

“The children learn first-hand how to care for their environment and to treat it with reverence,” she wrote in a statement following the hearing. “We believe that being involved physically with nature and directly with the environment are basic to being a whole and healthy human being. In this way the children then learn to view themselves as contributing members of a diverse global community.”

Currently, Weaver runs a “small, half-day” program with 16 children that she says the county allowed her to operate while she completed the permit process, as long as she didn’t actively market her school or expand to full-day classes.

Four-hour programs like hers — 8:30 to 12:30 — can be run without a state license, she said, but to achieve her goal of being licensed and operating seven hours, she needed to get a county permit beforehand.

To qualify for the permit, Weaver says she and her husband “upgraded the septic and the well systems, improved the driveway, provided parking spaces for parents picking up their children, and planted trees and the vegetable garden.”

However, “on Feb. 12, much to our surprise, a Kitsap County hearing examiner issued a ruling denying our permit,” on the grounds that: “laughter and screaming of young children during outdoor playtime” would be disruptive; the traffic created by parents dropping off and picking up their children” would detrimental and unsafe; and “the concern that the children, even when accompanied by instructors, would trample the stream banks and wetland area at the back of the property.”

The Hearing Examiner wrote in his decision that while “the educational goals and dedication of (the Weavers) to those goals are laudable and worthy of support, the use of this particular property for a school is not compatible with the rural character of other properties in the immediate vicinity. Thus, the use does not meet the criteria for approval of a conditional use permit and must be denied.”

Weaver said she hopes mediation will be a viable option, and in the meantime she is “working on creating a dialogue with both neighbors and the community at large to inform them about the school’s philosophy and the potential we have here for quality education in a peaceful surrounding with a safe environment.”

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