Kitsap Commissioners delay vote on Manchester’s Spruce House

A local contractor representing property owners wanting to add another three-story building to downtown Manchester says the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner erred when she denied the project a conditional use permit last year.

William Palmer, who represents both the permit applicant John Park and the property owner Tri-Hutch for the project, known as Spruce House, told the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners Monday night that there were seven reasons “the Hearing Examiner erred in rendering her decision.”

The plan for Spruce House at the corner of Colchester Drive and Spruce Street includes four components: an underground parking garage with 40 spaces; retail and 19 parking spaces at street level; a second floor with six dwellings, and a third floor with five dwellings.

In October, Hearing Examiner Kim Allen collected testimony from Palmer and from several nearby residents, ultimately deciding that an ongoing dispute with an adjacent property owner and unresolved stormwater issues necessitated halting the project.

“While the proposed project may be a worthy project for the area consistent with the Comprehensive Plan goals and policies, after reviewing all the evidence ... (it is determined that the proposal will be detrimental to uses or property in the immediate vicinity) and the application must be denied, without prejudice,” Allen wrote in her decision.

Palmer filed an appeal after Allen’s denial, and Monday the commissioners held a public hearing on the matter. No one spoke other than Dennis Oost, a senior planner with Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development and Palmer, who outlined the seven reasons he disagreed with the permit denial.

“We were obligated to address these errors, and the decision should be overturned by the board,” Palmer said, explaining that he found Allen’s assertion that the project should not go forward until an “ongoing lawsuit” was resolved particularly troubling.

Shawn Merritt’s property abuts Spruce House’s plat, and he claims the building as it is proposed would block current access to his garage. Merritt said the developers filed a lawsuit against him, and he filed a countersuit.

Allen said she had no jurisdiction to resolve the lawsuit, and “because use of the property and property encroachment on which landscaping is proposed is still in dispute, development ... would be materially detrimental to uses or property in the immediate vicinity.”

Palmer said delaying projects for lawsuits would set a dangerous precedent, and if any person wanting to oppose a project could derail it by filing a lawsuit, “potentially no controversial project could be approved,” he said.

“If the county is so inclined to consider disputes between property owners as a basis for project denial, then it is both necessary and imperative that the county include that criteria in its Zoning Ordinance so everyone can be aware (of the policy) before going forward with a project,” he continued.

Palmer’s other reasons for disagreeing with Allen’s decision included that other findings were based on incomplete or inaccurate information, and that in regards to the project’s stormwater plan, “the credentials of the project engineer are superior to those of Kitsap County’s engineering staff.”

During an earlier hearing, Oost testified that his department denied a permit for the project in large part because of a lack of a “viable stormwater solution.”

Palmer said the developers had proposed solutions, one of which was to utilize a manhole on Spruce Street with “an existing outflow pipe to Puget Sound,” but Allen said the solution did not meet requirements because the applicant would be relying on a privately maintained storm system it does not own.

Palmer argues that that was “an incomplete assessment at best and in fact an error in her conclusion.

“The applicant and his representative respectfully request request the (board of commissioners) overrule the Hearing Examiner and approve the proposed Spruce House project,” Palmer said. “This request is made based on the support of the record for the project and on the fact that the Hearing Examiner did not fairly consider and evaluate the Spruce House conditional use permit.”

South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said she would like more time to read Palmer’s information, and both she and Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown voted to postpone deciding on the matter until their March 22 meeting.

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