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Commissioners delay decision on South Kitsap Montessori school

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners postponed a vote Monday night on whether a hearing examiner’s decision to deny a conditional use permit for a Montessori school in South Kitsap will stand.

Owner and operator Annette Weaver opened the Montessori Farmhouse School 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 in February 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.

On Monday, supporters of Weaver packed the meeting room to hear the commissioners’ decision, but audience members were not allowed to give testimony because the proceedings were a “closed-record” hearing.

Only attorneys Ron Templeton and Bill Broughton, who filed an appeal on behalf of Weaver and her husband Terry, addressed the commissioners to summarize why they found the hearing examiner’s decision to be “erroneous and capricious.”

“We had problems with the three primary conclusions, which turned what was a relatively simple case factually into a real head-scratcher legally,” said Broughton, who then addressed each issue.

The first issue raised — that the “laughter and screaming of young children during outdoor playtime” would be disruptive — was described by Broughton as “absurd and embarrassing.” But even if the school creates a considerable amount of noise, he said, it is on a “very heavily-wooded property and has substantial screening.”

As to the assertion that the school's students would be “walking off the trails and destroying the wetlands,” Broughton said the children would be taken on weekly, supervised nature walks through the area to increase their awareness of the environment.

In response to the concern about an “unsafe” increase in traffic, Broughton said the 40 children would add 80 more car trips a day along the road, which he said already had “thousands of cars traveling it daily.” He said none of the parents’ cars would be arriving at night, since the school hours would be 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

As a concession, Broughton said his clients were willing to reduce the amount of children they planned to teach at the school from 40 to 34, “which is just a token of the many attempts that have been made” to compromise.

“Our clients want to be good neighbors,” he added. “This is a wonderful project.”

Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown pointed out that the conclusion of county staff was that the project would “moderately increase traffic to the area.”

Broughton responded by saying that the current county zoning allows for such schools in the area, and “anything would cause ‘moderate’ traffic increases.”

Brown then said he was “leaning toward reversing the refusal” of the permit, adding that the “conclusion from our own county staff was approval.”

However, South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said she wanted to “actually read” the brief submitted by Templeton and Broughton, which the commissioners said they had not received prior to the meeting.

“The burden of proof is on the appellants,” Garrido said.

A neighbor to the school then addressed the commissioners to say that he was surprised that Commissioner Brown wanted to make his decision without reading the brief, to which Brown responded by saying that all of the arguments were in the lengthy file he had already read, and that the lawyers’ brief was just a summation of the arguments detailed in there.

The commissioners postponed the vote until their July 27 meeting.

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.”

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