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Annexation put on ‘pause’

POULSBO — Two proposed annexations were shelved by the Poulsbo City Council Wednesday night.

And along with them, two public hearings.

More than 50 concerned citizens packed the city council chambers, many of them hoping to speak regarding one of two patches of Urban Growth Area (UGA) up for inclusion in the city.

Some were hoping for the annexations to pass, others for the land to remain in the county. Several on all sides of the issue expressed frustration that for the second time since March, the council postponed a scheduled annexation-based public discussion.

On March 5, the Tibbits annexation was on the agenda, but was put off until after the council’s comprehensive annexation workshop March 19.

Taking ‘a pause’

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said Wednesday’s public hearings and affiliated annexations were denied to allow the completion of the city’s functional planning. She hopes land can be annexed in a more holistic, logical fashion, instead of in unorganized, piecemeal plots.

“This will allow you all to have time to come up with an action plan,” Quade said to the council while urging them to vote against the proposals. “I don’t see this as a denial tonight. I see it as a pause. What I see this as is an opportunity to do it better and to do it right.”

The proposed Tibbits annexation contains 19.91 acres south of Finn Hill Road valued last year at $685,440. The proposed Gaines annexation, which involves 30.82 acres between Liberty Road and Marelaine Lane, had an assessed value last year of $3,249,340.

Both annexation proposals were eventually rejected Wednesday night in 6-1 votes.

Quade said taking a step back could allow for the use of gravitational sewer systems instead of pump systems, or better road connectivity, and will give the city the chance to correct misinformation in a public awareness campaign on the topic of annexation.

She said she envisions conducting larger annexations after thoughtful planning for the entire UGA, so the council knows “that we have a true roadmap for the future.”

Hoping for a vote and a voice

For Dave and Shawna Lambert, the night was a reminder of why they have been hoping to be annexed into the city. They originally signed the petition nearly three years ago.

Dave’s family has owned five acres within the Tibbits annexation area since 1954, and he and wife Shawna now farm strawberries and flowers and raise chickens.

The two say it’s frustrating to have the fate of their land sitting in the hands of a council for which they cannot vote. The cancellation of the public hearing was just another example of the way they feel their voices are not heard.

“There’s been a lot of things that have directly affected us that we’ve had no say in whatsoever,” Dave said, adding after the meeting, “I think it’s crap. ... We cannot vote any of these people off.”

Shawna said like many who attended the meeting, she and Dave are busy, have kids and serve on several committees. Once again, feeling they have no representation is a major frustration.

“We feel like we’re an island of county in the middle of the city,” she said.

Neighbors Steven Johnson and Karen Powell, each of whom own 2.5 acres within the proposed Tibbits area, echoed the sentiment.

“It pisses me off,” Powell said. “We got no public comments. We got shut down.”

Johnson urged council members at the end of the meeting to create some kind of special vote or inclusion of UGA citizens.

“I feel like I was not represented at this council meeting,” he said.

Time is of the essence

Another point of contention was a perceived lack of a definite schedule offered by the council.

Quade said she’d like to see the council make a decision before the end of the year, and thought functional planning — for the roads, sewer, water and storm water systems — could be done in as early as three months, although six- and nine-month time frames were also mentioned, and no clear time commitment was made.

For Arlene Tibbits, 79, time is of the essence. She said she invested in the annexation process so she can sell her property and move nearer to her daughters on the other side of the Puget Sound. Maintaining 10 acres — and paying taxes on them — is something she said she just can’t do any longer.

“I’m an old lady and I need the money to last me the rest of my life,” she said of the sale of her land. “This has been going on for almost three years, and I’m tired and I’m getting older by the day.”

Gaines annexation proponent Brad Watts said the meeting was the start of an open-ended process.

“I don’t feel good about it because I don’t have the confidence that it’s going to be done,” he said.

Some council members agreed on the need to communicate a schedule.

Council Member Jeff McGinty interjected into conversation importance of nailing down a time frame out of respect for the public, and said he could understand the frustration citizens and possible future citizens were probably feeling.

“I think we need to put closure to this,” he said, adding as a member of the Public Works Committee, “I’m going to do everything I can do to get this done quickly.”

Council Member Becky Erickson said she knows people are “emotionally, financially and morally invested” in the annexations. She tried to assuage any fears that the council’s vote would permanently stall the proposals.

“This is not an open-ended situation. We’ll work hard, we’ll get it done and we will go forward. We’re not shutting this town out,” she said. “This is a short duration situation. We’re just trying to do it better. That’s why we were elected, to do it better.”

Council Member Linda Berry-Maraist, the lone nay vote on rejecting both annexation proposals, said she felt the city asked the citizens to follow a process in order to be included, and the city in turn was changing the rules.

“I think it’s really important that government acts with predictability,” she said. “I feel like what we did tonight really changed those rules and I have a problem with that.”

Planning ahead logically

Not all citizens were upset by the shelving of the annexations.

Clair Bourgeois, a part of the Gaines annexation area, lauded the council’s decision to take a step back.

“I commend your decision,” she said. “We need to plan out the growth and be on the same side, the city as well as the community.”

Unlike some of the other meeting attendees, she said she now feels like her voice will have a chance to be heard, as the city takes a detailed look at its process and policies.

“Now at least I feel that maybe they’ll listen to us,” she said.

Landowner John Lee called on the council to exercise “prudence and advance planning” for the west side of Poulsbo’s UGA. He said completing the city’s comprehensive plan — a process he said is over five years behind — is a necessary facet that will help to unify research and data in regards to the UGA.

He recently submitted a cessation petition with 52 signatures of landowners asking to be removed from the UGA.

Lee and his wife, Molly, who before the meeting said she hoped the annexations were not approved, both work to protect the Johnson Creek corridor, part of which runs through their land next to the Tibbits annexation area. They hope to protect it from the effects of development.

Last fall, 800-900 salmon spawned in the Johnson Creek estuary. Suquamish Tribe biologist John Oleyar, who helps to monitor the area, said the corridor is still in tact and is home to a diverse population of bear, otter, cougar, coyote, bobcat and deer.

“Please hold off annexations at this time and avoid the developer rush toward an outmoded and outdated 14-year-old (comprehensive) plan,” the Lees said in a letter to the council. “Allow our new (comprehensive) plan to be instituted, with the compliance of the state and will of the people firmly behind it. Then, with a regional perspective, determine whether it makes sense to annex the West Side.”

Public education and involvement

Berry-Maraist said the council’s decision was in part an overreaction to misinformation spread about the environmental aspects of the particular annexations.

“It ought to be based on facts, it ought to be based on science, not rumor and innuendo,” she said.

Council Member Dale Rudolph, too, said he thinks a large amount of misinformation has been disseminated, and public education is a much-needed piece of the annexation puzzle, especially when it comes to property taxes, sewer hookups, city policies and protection of natural resources.

No specific actions to educate the public were identified.

Quade also reiterated the need to educate citizens. She added the cancelation of the public hearings was in everyone’s best interest, so that those vested in the situation could have “fresh” comments when the city next addresses the proposals.

Katherine Morgan, a planning consultant for the JWJ Group hoping to see the success of the Gaines annexation, said she wants neighbors to become involved and engage in a positive dialogue. As the process goes forward, she said she’d like a balance between those on all sides of the issue to be found so that a future vision of the best Poulsbo possible can be developed.

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