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Poulsbo to decide how court reversal affects utility extensions

POULSBO — Annexation by petition is once again legal in Washington State, however, the City of Poulsbo still has some decisions to make regarding last week’s announcement.

Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said this week that he’s still awaiting direction from Mayor Donna Jean Bruce and the city council as to how to deal with the Jan. 29 Supreme Court decision. That document unanimously reversed the court’s own 2002 conclusion that the petition method of annexation was unconstitutional because it gave owners of large amounts of property more sway than those of smaller parcels or non-owners.

That reversal cited that petitioning for annexation does not imply that those majority property owners have made the decision for their neighbors.

“The authority granted to landowners to petition for annexation is advisory only,” Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote in the official opinion. “The landowners have no authority to determine whether annexation occurs. Instead, if property owners of the proper percentage ... sign the annexation petition, the question of annexation goes to the city’s legislative body for its final decision.”

Until it was ruled constitutional, the petition method was the preferred method of annexation for jurisdictions in Washington State. Berezowsky said Poulsbo planners have adapted very well in the last year, especially with the 50/50 method that was approved in 2003. That method requires 51 percent of the property owners and 51 percent of the registered voters in an area to agree to annexation. It is in its first trials in Poulsbo with the Bergquist, Finn Hill and Wells annexations.

Berezowsky said both the petition and 50/50 methods have their strengths and weaknesses and that he saw the city continuing to use both.

“I don’t believe this will change how we are proceeding with those annexations we are in the midst of processing,” Berezowsky commented on the Jan. 29 decision.

In fact, the largest benefit from the revival of the petition method is not for municipal planners, but for property owners and developers, Berezowsky explained. Besides bypassing the costly elections, petitions also allowed those in an Urban Growth Area (UGA) to hook up to city utilities with the promise to someday sign an annexation petition.

In August 2002, after the petition method was struck down, the Poulsbo City Council unanimously voted to put a moratorium on extending utility services outside the city limits. Members agreed that until cities were given more clarification on the issue, they did not want to subject the city to such liability.

“In our UGA, it’s been somewhat of a long wait for some people. It wasn’t long after the county and city adopted our UGA that the Supreme Court made their determination,” Berezowsky recalled. “That kind of upset the apple cart, so to speak, for a number of people who were ready to move on their property.”

It will be up to the mayor and council whether to repeal the resolution prohibiting utility extensions without prior annexation.

Berezowsky said staff are more than happy to answer the many questions they expect once folks learn about the decision, however, he hopes to have a more long-range answer soon.

“For a little while, our answers won’t be any different than people have been hearing from us the last year — they need to annex first,” he commented.By CARRINA STANTON

Staff Writer

POULSBO — Annexation by petition is once again legal in Washington State, however, the City of Poulsbo still has some decisions to make regarding last week’s announcement.

Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said this week that he’s still awaiting direction from Mayor Donna Jean Bruce and the city council as to how to deal with the Jan. 29 Supreme Court decision. That document unanimously reversed the court’s own 2002 conclusion that the petition method of annexation was unconstitutional because it gave owners of large amounts of property more sway than those of smaller parcels or non-owners.

That reversal cited that petitioning for annexation does not imply that those majority property owners have made the decision for their neighbors.

“The authority granted to landowners to petition for annexation is advisory only,” Justice Bobbe Bridge wrote in the official opinion. “The landowners have no authority to determine whether annexation occurs. Instead, if property owners of the proper percentage ... sign the annexation petition, the question of annexation goes to the city’s legislative body for its final decision.”

Until it was ruled constitutional, the petition method was the preferred method of annexation for jurisdictions in Washington State. Berezowsky said Poulsbo planners have adapted very well in the last year, especially with the 50/50 method that was approved in 2003. That method requires 51 percent of the property owners and 51 percent of the registered voters in an area to agree to annexation. It is in its first trials in Poulsbo with the Bergquist, Finn Hill and Wells annexations.

Berezowsky said both the petition and 50/50 methods have their strengths and weaknesses and that he saw the city continuing to use both.

“I don’t believe this will change how we are proceeding with those annexations we are in the midst of processing,” Berezowsky commented on the Jan. 29 decision.

In fact, the largest benefit from the revival of the petition method is not for municipal planners, but for property owners and developers, Berezowsky explained. Besides bypassing the costly elections, petitions also allowed those in an Urban Growth Area (UGA) to hook up to city utilities with the promise to someday sign an annexation petition.

In August 2002, after the petition method was struck down, the Poulsbo City Council unanimously voted to put a moratorium on extending utility services outside the city limits. Members agreed that until cities were given more clarification on the issue, they did not want to subject the city to such liability.

“In our UGA, it’s been somewhat of a long wait for some people. It wasn’t long after the county and city adopted our UGA that the Supreme Court made their determination,” Berezowsky recalled. “That kind of upset the apple cart, so to speak, for a number of people who were ready to move on their property.”

It will be up to the mayor and council whether to repeal the resolution prohibiting utility extensions without prior annexation.

Berezowsky said staff are more than happy to answer the many questions they expect once folks learn about the decision, however, he hopes to have a more long-range answer soon.

“For a little while, our answers won’t be any different than people have been hearing from us the last year — they need to annex first,” he commented.

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