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City okays new zoning ordinance

POULSBO — “Two steps forward, one step back,” was how Poulsbo resident Muriel Williams described city council’s unanimous approval of its new zoning ordinance Wednesday night.

Williams’ mixed reaction came from the fact that while she supported the majority of the document, she also felt that a vital component pertaining to house sizes had been ignored.

She was not alone.

In fact, the majority of council also raised questions about “monster dwellings” and their impact on smaller, historic neighborhoods that have prevailed in Little Norway since the days of Iver Moe.

Williams cited an April 17 draft zoning ordinance workshop in which the council had expressed concerns about building heights and newer homes ruining the historic feel of older neighborhood. But even after Associate Planner Karla Boughton explained changes to the existing ordinance, Williams asked, “I didn’t gather whether there is any control over the size of homes.”

That’s because, other than the size of the property, there really isn’t.

City Planner Glenn Gross said this was essentially the case and that the new zoning ordinance would not alter property owner’s current ability to build these large houses. He did, however, state that the city could review the situation next year.

While council supported the 2003 study to preserve the historic feel of Poulsbo’s neighborhoods, Williams said she felt some new, monster houses already built had done some serious damage to city’s soul.

“What I see is the soul of Poulsbo disappearing and it distresses me,” Williams said, noting that the domino effect was imminent. “The old Poulsbo is going to disappear if we don’t do something.”

“I object and — if you will — I strongly object,” she added.

The lack of restrictions at present was the one step back but the city did take two steps forward as well, implementing changes that will make the ordinance more user friendly, predictable and flexible.

The new zoning requirements have been in the works for about two years, according to Boughton, who said the alterations went through an extensive review process by city officials, private business owners and committees.

“It’s updating our 1994 ordinance,” said Gross. “The purpose is to provide increased predictability and more efficient administration. In general we think it will be more user friendly, clearer, provide more flexibly and result in higher quality developments in the city.”

A few of the major points in the document include the creation of a Viking Avenue Corridor Combining District which allows reduced landscaping, taller and larger signs along the commercial stretch; uniform changes to the current building height requirements; and the implementation of Planned Unit Developments.

“The PUDs help infill the city while still protecting the character of the surrounding area,” Gross said, noting that the concept as well as other went through a special zoning advisory committee on its way to adoption.

Even so, City Councilman Dale Rudolph expressed concerns that the PUD’s lack of setback requirements would be a potential powder keg for neighborhoods.

“To me the setbacks in the PUD is one thing — the PUD setback from the neighbors is another thing altogether,” he remarked, asking whether or not anyone else was worried about the impact on existing residential areas. “I’m not comfortable with these setbacks. I think if I was next to an undeveloped lot, I’d be pretty nervous.”

But Gross said — despite the lack of setback provisions — all Planned Unit Developments would have to go before the city council for approval and, as such, the elected body could propose changes as needed.

“I think we can work with the applicants and point them in the right direction,” he added.

Although Rudolph urged the council to set a minimum 10-foot setback for Planned Unit Developments, Councilman Mike Regis and Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison disagreed citing the need to keep flexibility for the PUDs. City Attorney Jim Haney put Rudolph’s concerns to rest though, stating that the city’s existing neighborhood setbacks would not be changed by the ordinance.

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