Planning Commission votes against growth center designation

The Port Orchard Planning Commission expressed unanimous opposition to a proposal that will designate downtown as a high growth area, while acknowledging its recommendation could be ignored.

“We need to recognize that we are not the decision-making body,” said Planning Commission chair Bek Ashby. “If we recommend that the city council turn down this proposal they might just turn around and pass it anyway.”

At issue is whether Port Orchard seeks designation as a “Urban Growth Center” which would entitle the city to receive Federal funds that can be used for downtown development and other improvements. It would also increase density requirements for some parts of the city.

The idea, which is designated as “Appendix F” to the Port Orchard Comprehensive Plan, is due for decision at the Dec. 22 meeting of the city council.

Those opposing the amendment feel it would change the look and feel of Port Orchard, and have a negative effect on its small town flavor. The fund acquisition also increases reliance on the Puget Sound Regional Council, an entity that has drawn criticism for the imposition of “strings attached” to funding that passes through that organization.

Several people spoke out against the UGC designation at the Nov. 24 city council meeting, but there were no spectators at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday night.

As an advisory board, the Planning Commission has no formal power. The decision whether to approve or excise the amendment from the comprehensive plan will come from the city council. But it still has influence. Council member Jim Colebank said on Wednesday that he was inclined to vote against inclusion of the appendix based on the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

“I agree with the idea that we are being rushed,” Colebank said. “I respect the Planning Commission and appreciate their attention to detail.”

Council members Jerry Childs and Fred Olin have voiced opposition to the UGC designation. If these three do not change their opinion, UGC advocates will need all four remaining council members in order to accept the distinction.

Council members Rob Putaansuu and Carolyn Powers said on Wednesday they were not certain

Ashby, who does not vote except in cases of a tie, said she felt the city needed to request more time to refine the document, waiting at least a year to gather public testimony before making a decision.

“It’s not like we have to rush,” she said. “Even if this is approved we won’t see any money for at least three years.”

Council members Fred Chang and John Clauson did not respond to calls for comment.

Development Director James Weaver said the city was under the impression it had some time to deliberate the matter, but learned in October that action was needed by the end of the year in order to qualify for the current funding round.

“We need to do this right away in order to qualify,” Weaver said. “The timing is not ideal. There is a short window in order to take advantage of a three year process. That’s why it’s so rushed.”

Over the course of the meeting, Weaver said the time limit may not be absolute, and the funding sources available through UGC designation are not exclusive.

“There are other places where we can get funding,” he said.

Those speaking out against the UGC feel that it is unecessary and restrictive. Commissioner Vance Vaught said the city should be able to make its own choices, and should not allow others to “take control of our destiny.” And commissioner Tim Drury agrees with UGC’s goals but not its methods.

“I don’t think we need this guidance,” Drury said. “The items listed in Appendix F are things that we have been doing for several years. I don’t see anything here that is radically different from what we are already doing.”

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