Poulsbo Annexation Task Force to give final report to city in July

POULSBO — Seven weeks into its quest for a better annexation process, Poulsbo’s Annexation Task Force is nearing its final recommendations.

The 12-member group will report back to the city next month ways it believes annexation in Poulsbo can be improved, potentially including better public communication, equal zoning protection and possible tax breaks for some large lot owners.

The annexation topic is a hot one for the task force, as many of its members currently live in the Urban Growth Area surrounding Little Norway. Two city council members and a planning commissioner also sit on the task force.

Organizer Dale Rudolph, a Poulsbo council member, reported to the full council last Wednesday night on the group’s progress. After its final two sessions, they’ll submit to council:

• new or changes to existing annexation policies;

• specific recommendations for the area east of Highway 3 and south of Finn Hill Road;

• improvements to the process; and

• a record of their discussions and minutes of meetings.

Rudolph said no votes have yet been taken, but the purpose of the force is to weed out needed information and clarify the process to make it a smoother one for the city and citizens.

The Annexation Task Force began meeting in April. It hosted a public roundtable in May.

Poulsbo currently has roughly 420 acres of land set aside in its UGA, meaning it is slated for future annexation. Originally, 1,200 acres of land were set aside in conjunction with Kitsap County. Sixty-five percent of that has already been annexed.

The art

of communicating

Rudolph said to facilitate the flow of public information, a new question and answer annexation fact sheet is being prepared. Also in line to help spread the word: When a petitioner approaches the city council with a 10 percent petition, the petitioner must notify via mail all landowners in the area within 30 days if the petition is allowed. Within in 60 days, a community meeting must be held. Currently, area landowners aren’t notified until a 60 percent petition is circulated.

“This is to bring folks out and let them find out about the annexation proposal and start asking their questions,” Rudolph said. “We think these two steps are really a significant improvement in awareness and participation by people who are affected by annexation.”

Equal zoning for all

Also in the works is a new policy ensuring protection of the UGA from unequal up-zoning to meet population targets, Rudolph said. To ensure growth isn’t disproportionately designated to the newly annexed areas, the policy would require the city to treat all its land with equal concentration and care.

“We would not treat the unincorporated UGA any differently than any other undeveloped area of the city,” he said.

Not me, Mr. Taxman

New and continued tax exemptions for landowners who own larger lots they do not develop are also on the task force’s table. The city currently allows continued exemptions for land designated for agriculture or conservation and the county assessor’s office makes possible other open space reductions. The council discussed the importance of shielding new citizens from skyrocketing assessments due to their land’s perceived development potential.

“This is the crux of the matter of coming into the city,” Council Member Ed Stern said. He said legacy lots meant not for new neighborhoods but heritage shouldn’t be hit hard by rising taxes.

Council Member Linda Berry-Maraist chimed in, saying with the start of Poulsbo’s annexations some landowners “just got walloped” by increasing taxes.

Discussion circled the idea that annexation by itself shouldn’t increase taxable land value unless and until city services are extended or other changes in the neighborhood occur. A tax exemption could create piecemeal development or target population barriers however, Rudolph said.

The boundary beef

Rudolph said another topic not yet agreed upon is that of boundaries for future annexations. While a consensus was reached that annexations should be contiguous — versus piece meal — a resolution has yet to be reached regarding the area south of Finn Hill Road and east of Highway 3. The group will consider a policy to guide annexation in the area, which could determine if existing developed properties should be pushed into unwanted annexation. They also face the question of how big the west side annexation should be. Rudolph also mentioned the possible creation of a development task force, as many questions raised during the past few weeks could be better addressed by a dedicated group.

The task force next meets at 6:30 p.m. June 16 at Poulsbo’s City Hall.

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