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City of Poulsbo prevails in Comprehensive Plan appeal

POULSBO — A Washington Growth Management hearings board dismissed an appeal against the city of Poulsbo’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan.

All 38 issues filed against the plan were dismissed.

“That’s a pretty good confirmation that we did it right, and I always knew that,” said Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson.

The Comprehensive Plan is a visioning document meant to guide the city’s growth. A massive update to the plan began in 2007 and was completed in late 2009.

A group of four petitioners appealed the plan in February.

The board’s 94-page ruling was released Monday.

The Board found that the City acted within its legislative discretion in the development and adoption of the 2009 Comprehensive Plan,” states the final decision document. “The Board acknowledges the citizen involvement of the pro se (self-representing) Petitioners. Seldom does the Board observe the level of commitment by the public as demonstrated in this case.”

Petitioners included Jan Wold, Carlotta Cellucci, Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Government and Molly and John Lee. Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Government subsequently withdrew from the case, hearing papers state.

The petitioners argued the city failed to adequately implement a public participation plan, protect the environment and plan for Poulsbo’s future growth, among other issues.

They have 10 days to request the case be reconsidered, and Wold said Wednesday she and the other petitioners had not decided what action they will take.

The board noted its authority is only to enforce the requirements of the Growth Management Act, which requires the identification – not protection – of open space corridors, and acknowledged the “real-life experience” of the petitioners.

“They have witnessed over the last decade as wild or rural countryside is turned into subdivisions and shopping malls, while stream banks erode and wash out salmon redds, woods and meadows are paved over, and wildlife disappears,” the board stated.

The board also found some validity to a complaint against the city’s public participation process, which wasn’t fully designed during the early stages of the Comprehensive Plan update. That was corrected by 2009, when “the City went to great effort to give the opportunity” for public to be involved, the findings state.

The board ruled similarly on a complaint that the city’s population count was incorrect during the plan drafting process. In early 2009 Wold spotted the city’s miscounted development permits, which had been under-reported since 2001. Her correction resulted in a new population count, which rose 13 percent from 7,840 to 8,855.

The board stated in its findings that inaccurate population numbers can result in growth management violations, but “the board does not judge non-compliance based on mistakes or resistance along the way, but on the actual Ordinance adopted by the City Council.”

The petitioners also argued the city’s land capacity calculations were inflated, and that residential densities are higher per acre than is represented in the Comprehensive Plan, meaning Poulsbo’s current Urban Growth Area, where city limits are expected to eventually expand, has more than enough room to hold predicted population growth.

The board noted that, in light of a recent Washington State Court of Appeals ruling against the county’s comprehensive plan, which designed Kitsap’s Urban Growth Areas, if the county’s plan undergoes a required revision Poulsbo will be able to provide better information because of Wold’s diligence in watching the numbers.

“As indicated, the city can readily absorb an additional 1,500 people without (Urban Growth Area) expansion through reasonable measures continuing the trend densities,” it states.

The Puget Sound Regional Council awarded Poulsbo’s Comprehensive Plan one of five Vision 2040 Awards. Erickson estimated the legal cost defending the plan to be between $50,000 and $60,000.

The city will add several amendments to the plan this fall, including implementing a procedure for future updates.

To view the plan, visit www.cityofpoulsbo.com.

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