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Height cap petition circulates Poulsbo

POULSBO — A common argument has sparked new discussion in Little Norway, as the Friends of Poulsbo organization is working to circulate a height restriction petition in response to proposed downtown development.

But while the topic of building height caps is one that can stir up self-serving interests in many communities, in Poulsbo each side of the argument seems to have the well-being of the city at heart.

Friends of Poulsbo activist Bob Thompson said the group was formed in January after Central Highland Builders held a community meeting to divulge their plans for areas on 4th and 3rd avenues. Three buildings of three to four stories, containing more than 200 condo units on 4th Avenue, as well as similar structures around the Post Office, became a major source of concern.

“These will be huge buildings,” Thompson said. “Like the Wall of China, blocking the sun and everything else. It’s upsetting to quite a few people.”

The organization, made up of a handful of Poulsbo Place residents, is concerned not just about the city’s skyline, but traffic implications of the added living units.

“We have nothing against developers. We know they make the wheels go round, but sometimes they act like it’s their own private sand box,” he said. “We would like to see them use some common sense.”

Building height restriction in Poulsbo is normally set at 35 feet, however, if underbuilding parking is instituted, a builder can earn 10 extra feet for their structure above ground. The Friends of Poulsbo petition requests the city council rescind the allowance underbuilding parking provides, calling 45 feet too high in comparison with Poulsbo’s small-town feel. As of Tuesday, nearly 30 people had signed.

“We’re trying to get the attention of the city and just let them know we want some careful consideration before they approve anything like this,” Thompson said.

City planning director Barry Berezowsky said the underbuilding parking could help alleviate downtown space difficulties and is considered an efficient technique, but the city’s code concerning it is at present a little unclear.

He said residents who received and reviewed the Central Highland Builders’ plan most likely took it as a “dramatic departure from the project that they believed they bought into.” Berezowsky was referring to the developer’s initial plan, which was first unveiled in 2005 and consisted of two- to three-story single and duplex homes. The newest proposal has yet to be formally submitted to the city.

“They’ve got a tough road to hoe,” he said. “From what we’re hearing from the community... I don’t think there’s a lot of community support for increasing the building height in Poulsbo.”

Aside from community barriers, Berezowsky said the proposal would also most likely require amendments to the zoning code, master and comprehensive plans. He said the situation could cause the city council to revisit the height restriction codes sometime in the coming year. But without community support, getting an amendment isn’t an easy process.

“Usually when that happens the council is not as open to approving something being proposed by developers or property owners,” he said.

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said she has met with members of the Friends of Poulsbo, and the height restriction debate is one that fits in with many other development and growth concerns Poulsbo often faces.

“I believe their concern is they don’t want to see Poulsbo change too dramatically,” she said. “It’s a balancing act. It’s not going to be easy. I keep in mind that if we’re not growing, we’re dying, so we have to balance how quickly we grow with what keeps Poulsbo so special.”

Central Highland Builders’ David Smith said the project is designed to reap benefits for Poulsbo, and more specifically its downtown core.

“We will be turning it in (to the city) hopefully this week with concept plans and everything else,” he said. “Most of it’s going to be actually three stories.”

Smith said while much of the planned structures do remain under the 35-foot height limit, there are aspects he’d like to see included that would reach a higher point. They are mostly aesthetic features, possibly including arched rooftops and cupolas he feels would keep the buildings in sync with the historic, whimsical feel of downtown. An initial assessment of 53 feet the Friends of Poulsbo have called out is probably higher than necessary, he said, adding what he envisioned could easily be 45 feet, or less if needed.

“The buildings can make all of the height limitations that are currently enforced in Poulsbo,” he said. “We very much want to make the building attracting and appealing... it needs to fit nicely with the ambiance that exists.”

Central Highland Builders is also looking to enter into a joint venture with Martha & Mary to construct assisted-living housing near the condominiums on 4th Avenue, most of which would also be about four stories high, Smith said.

“The whole idea of putting more people downtown had become an extremely important issue to the downtown merchants,” he said. “We’ve got to grow our own customers.”

Central Highland Builders is not through hearing from the community, he added, as they will not just go through the city’s required public comment process, but continue to hold neighborhood meetings as they have in the past to create communication.

“My personal feeling is it’s exactly what Poulsbo needs,” he said. “I think this is the right thing to do, but whatever the community decides, we don’t want to argue with it.”

For more on the Friends of Poulsbo petition, visit friendsofpoulsbo.org.

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