Should Little Norway grow?

POULSBO — After being delayed and derailed for the last nine years, Poulsbo’s long-awaited train of growth management progress could finally be chugging into station within the next few months.

The city’s Urban Growth Area plan has been on and off the tracks countless times since the process began in 1993, stalling completely at junctions while leaving both Poulsbo and county residents wondering their attendance at numerous meetings was worth it.

They’ll have one more chance to speak their minds this Wednesday, Nov. 28 when Poulsbo City Council meets with Kitsap County Commissioners for what could be the final public hearing on the issue.

The hearing, which will take place at 7 p.m. at city hall, follows countless others on the subject of where and how Poulsbo should grow.

On one end of the spectrum are county residents, who feel the city should absorb additional population within its own boundaries before expanding its Urban Growth Area into surrounding rural neighborhoods. On the other side are citizens of Poulsbo, who have said time and time again that, “Little Norway should stay little,” and new housing opportunities should be offered just outside the city limits.

Last month, planning commissioners from Kitsap County made their final recommendation on the UGA and advised that Finn Hill be removed from the subarea plan.

But even though the county planning commission had been discussing the move last year, city planner Glenn Gross said he was still a little surprised by the advisory group’s decision.

“I just think the county planning commission went in a different direction than we expected them to,” Gross said this week.

Finn Hill has been a sticking point between the city and county for years. While Poulsbo has argued that the city infrastructure is most primed to accommodate growth in the northwestern sector, the county has repeatedly disagreed.

“The infrastructure (elsewhere) can’t take it,” Poulsbo senior planner Barry Berezowsky said this week, pointing out that Finn Hill was a logical place to grow and that “infilling” population in the city would cause problems. “You start tossing up four- and five-story apartments and... well, you think traffic is bad now.”

The city’s push to include Finn Hill is also scientifically based, according to Gross. Salmon habitat included in what has been deemed the “refugia area” led to the city’s initial decision to expand its UGA to Finn Hill, he stated. The critical and undevelopable area, which stretches along Poulsbo’s northeastern edge, was what forced the city to re-evaluate its strategy for growth and recreate its UGA boundary a few years ago.

Not making any headway, the city and county planning departments last year passed the buck to the Poulsbo and Kitsap County planning commissions for debate. But the two advisory groups also butted heads after trying to work as a team, declaring an impasse in December 2000 before going their separate ways on the UGA.

In June, Poulsbo City Council voted 4-3 to accept the recommendations of the city planning commission and take ownership of the plan. Since that time it has been reviewing its options, always wary that the final call on the state mandated Urban Growth Area will come

from the county.

“I think the city’s position is that the recommended UGA is based on facts and on the Growth Management Act,” Gross said. “Ultimately, the county commissioners will make the decision on this.”

Despite recommendations on either side, the city may have an ace in the hole in the form of Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen.

When the process was handed to the respective planning city and county advisory groups last year, she promised city council that the UGA would be “Poulsbo’s plan.”

To date, it hasn’t been.

Nonetheless, Berezowsky said, “We’re hoping the county commissioners will stay true to their commitment.”

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