UGA: The end is near

POULSBO — It’s been like watching a couple of tennis players try to whack a bowling ball over the net, but after seven years of trial, error, confusion, derision, agreement and debate, efforts by Kitsap County and Poulsbo to create an Urban Growth Area for the city could be coming to a close later this month.

Kitsap County commissioners Wednesday night said they hoped to make a final decision on the long-standing issue by the end of the year and now all city officials can do is wait and see what happens.

They will not be alone.

Residents of Poulsbo and Finn Hill will also spend the next few weeks on edge as the commissioners weigh the pros and cons of two UGA plans.

The first is a city council solution, which calls for the inclusion of Finn Hill in the growth boundary. The second, is a recommendation from the Kitsap County Planning Commission that proposes Finn Hill be removed from the UGA and Poulsbo accommodate the additional population elsewhere.

Wednesday, the city council and the Kitsap County Commissioners heard final arguments from residents on either side of the court during what should be the last public hearing on the topic. While proponents and opponents of each plan spoke fervently, neither group brought forth any information that hasn’t already been debated in similar hearings since 1994.

“This plan represents a tremendous amount of community effort,” assistant director for Kitsap County Department of Community Development Darryl Piercy told the huge audience at council chambers.

Additional chairs had been moved into the room, but many people were forced to sit in the hallway or stand during the session, which neared the three-hour mark at its conclusion.

Piercy said the plan also showed a considerable amount of agreement as well between Poulsbo and Kitsap County, and noted that outstanding issues pertained to the text of the plan and the much-disputed Urban Growth Area boundary for the city.

Pre-planning was a major sticking point between the two planning departments and although the county wants to impose the standard on the UGA, the city has thus far found the mechanism “unacceptable,” Piercy said. The assistant director said that without pre-planning “urban sprawl is compromised” and that the method creates incentives to extend for future infrastructure.

“The city does not see this as an effective tool,” Piercy added.

But even so, discovering an agreeable “shadow planning” solution is much more likely than an end to the city-county dispute over Poulsbo’s proposed addition of 186 acres of Finn Hill land into the Urban Growth Area. The land, Piercy said, could accommodate about 750 people, roughly 10 percent of the 8,000 new residents Poulsbo must plan for under the Growth Management Act.

The county, however, has maintained that Finn Hill should be excluded and that the city should increase its population densities before pushing the UGA into rural lands. Despite protests, Poulsbo has argued that increased densities within city limits could destroy the small-town character here. It has also argued that while city planning is based on “actual science,” the county proposal is based in “politics.”

“There is nothing that distinguishes Finn Hill from other areas the county excluded (from the UGA),” Gross said, again explaining the city’s long-held belief that the infrastructure there would facilitate future growth.

Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin disagreed though.

“When you look at the new boundary (proposed by Poulsbo) it’s low density,” Botkin pointed out before asking whether Poulsbo ever have high density in its UGA or whether it would continue to expand outward. Gross responded noting that the city could add density and intensity to areas within the UGA and the limits as needed.

Talking on behalf of his parents June and George Spencer, Don Spencer became the first minority position speaker of the night, asking the county commissioners to adopt the city council’s plan and include Finn Hill in the Urban Growth Area. Spencer, and others sharing his viewpoint were out numbered at the public hearing almost 3-1.

Roy Rassmussen and his wife have had a house on Finn Hill for more than half a century and called the recent Olhava work a fiasco that had resulted in a “wasteland of stumps.” Like others who would follow his lead, Rassmussen urged the commissioners to retain the county’s scenic rural setting, limit urban sprawl and push for additional density in the city before expanding the UGA.

Poulsbo Planning Commissioner Barry Babcock has been knee deep in the issue for years and pointed out that, no matter which way the county went on the issue, both it and the city owed residents an answer.

“This has been dragging on for quite a few years,” Babcock said. “We’ve got to give them some answers. It’s seven years into the process now it’s time to get this thing done.”

The county commissioners will discuss the issue at its Dec. 17 meeting, Chris Endresen said, adding that she’d like to see the issue resolved completely by the end of the year.

Whether the elected trio can end the seven-year process by then though has yet to be decided and while Commissioner Jan Angel said she “respects what Poulsbo wants for Poulsbo,” Commissioner Botkin said this respect should be extended to the neighborhoods in the proposed UGA as well.

“The city needs to grow (but) rural areas need to be respected,” Botkin said, noting that he felt the city should remain as “compacted” as possible.

“This has been a long journey,” Commissioner Endresen added, explaining the growth she had witnessed in Poulsbo over the past 20 years before urging that both groups continue to plan for a sustainable quality of life. “How are we going to do this without paving the county?”

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