City dodged a bullet with casino ruling
June 12, 2008 · Updated 4:24 PM
If Port Orchard doesnt wind up with a mini-casino in its city limits or a thumping big lawsuit it wont be the fault of the city council.
When news first came to light last spring the owner of Hanks Country Inn in Belfair wanted to build a casino in Port Orchards Westbay Shopping Center, the city council suddenly realized it had a problem. As much as its members might have wanted to deny the business the conditional-use permit being sought, they found out they couldnt base their denial on the fact that the casino offered gambling.
Why? Because there was no ordinance on the citys books prohibiting gambling. Apparently no one had ever anticipated the issue might one day come up.
According to Port Orchard City Attorney Loren Combs, the city could legally deny the casino a permit only if it found some other reason for doing so. But, Thats going to be difficult here because its going into an existing building, he said. An existing building with utility hookups, parking and structural requirements already in place.
Undeterred, the council in June passed a resolution imposing a six-month moratorium on all future gambling establishments, in effect telegraphing the punch to come.
In July, the council voted to deny the project a permit, claiming the casinos developer hadnt submitted detailed architectural drawings of the projects exterior facade in order to show how it would fit in with the decor of neighboring businesses.
Casino owner Hank OSullivan cried foul, arguing the facade issue was simply a red herring being used by the city to address its real objection gambling. OSullivan threatened to sue, but ultimately it was the owners of the Westbay Shopping Center who sued on his behalf, noting the citys actions had prevented them from collecting rent from the casino that wasnt built.
Last month, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof sided with the casino, noting in his decision This court finds that the Planning Commission and the city council acted improperly with respect to the requirements placed upon the petitioners prior to denial of the (conditional-use permit).
By now the issue could well be moot, since OSullivan no longer has any great desire to build a casino in a city whose leaders clearly dont want it, and Roofs decree does not award any monetary damages to the building owner.
Even so, it strikes us as more than a little careless on someones part for the city not to have already had a gambling ban on the books if thats the way residents felt about the matter. Worse, the council clearly exposed the city to an unnecessary risk by denying the permit on flimsy grounds in a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent its own regulations.
It was a bad gamble for the city, even if it does seem to have worked out.