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Realtors find fault with KRCC policies with KRCC policy

By CARRINA STANTON

Staff Writer

POULSBO — Updates to a more than 10-year-old planning document from the county have been coming down the pipeline in recent months.

But not everyone is urging their adoption just yet.

At its March 3 meeting, the Poulsbo City Council reviewed proposed Countywide Planning Policies from the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council. The document is the last part of the phased adoption of updates to the current policies, which were adopted in 1992 in response to the passage of the Growth Management Act.

The first set of regulations sparked fierce debate from jurisdictions that felt they were being mandated to grow in ways that might not be consistent with community views. This time, the idea was to help create more of a “bottoms-up” feel to the policies by giving the power of decision to communities rather than the county, said KRCC Executive Director Mary McClure.

“We’re trying to make the process more and more responsive and make better and better policies,” McClure commented.

One of the biggest changes is included in the population targets for each community for 2025. Previously, a number was set by the KRCC and five-sixths (or about 83 percent) of that growth had to take place within urban areas. Now, cities will be given a population target range and must work with other jurisdictions to meet an overall county-wide target that is set by the state.

“These are good visions to work towards, I think they’ll keep us moving on the right path,” Kamuron Gurol of the Kitsap County DCD said.

“The five-sixths number was something that was really held over our heads by people really trying to force the city to go to a density where we don’t want to go,” Councilman Dale Rudolph added. “Now, there’s a range and we’re saying cities can do what they want. This is a much more reasonable recommendation, I think.”

Planning Director Barry Berezowsky called new policies “vision and policy tempered with reality.” He said he and Gurol may sit down as early as next week to discuss population ranges, which he feels will be much less subjective than numbers under the 1992 documents.

“While there’s still policy and politics involved, this lays out a much more analytical process,” Berezowsky told council Wednesday. “Do we have water? Do we have sewer? Can our roads handle growth? These questions will need to be answered before we talk density.”

But no amount of updates will fix what was essentially a flawed document to begin with, said opponents. The Kitsap County Association of Realtors and Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners are vehemently against the new documents, saying the GMA doesn’t work, the 1992 planning policies are unsound and the new drafts are even worse.

“It makes no sense to the realty community to issue from one flawed document a new flawed document,” KCAR president Frank Mahaffay said.

Though of late such planning policies had been dubbed the controversial term Smart Growth, Mahaffay said his group feels the documents represent more of a “no growth” frame of mind. Realtors, he added, perceive that by restricting buildable lands, such policies are reducing the amount of new growth, which is making housing less and less affordable.

“(Kitsap County’s median income is) about $43,000 and if you look at that with our average sale price overall county-wide is more than $200,000, someone who makes the median income cannot afford the average home in this county,” Mahaffay said.

“This all boils down to a supply-and-demand issue,” added KCAR Government Affairs Director Mike Eliason. “For years and years because people wanted to live in Kitsap County there’s always been a consistent and stable demand. The problem is government has decided to restrict supply and you know what happens when you have restricted supply and have stable or increasing demand — you have double-digit price increases.”

Further, opponents claim that such policies will force more growth than some jurisdictions want.

North End Realtor Michael Svardh said the KRCC relies heavily on the state’s Vision 2020 plan, which calls for populations being focused in higher-density, more transit-oriented centers of growth. The concept could save green spaces, however, Svardh said the densities envisioned are more suited to Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill than Poulsbo’s Front Street.

“We have problems with monster houses here and I think we’re going to have problems with monster towers if we continue like this,” Svardh told council members this week.

But the KRCC’s plans for the next 20 years of growth aren’t the horror stories opponents are telling, Gurol said. The policies do not necessarily mean high-rise buildings for Poulsbo or cars being banished from the roads, but rather a system where growth is logical, environmentally-conscious and aware of community values, proponents assert.

“Some of the patterns of the past don’t work well. People evolve. They grow. They change,” Gurol commented. “If you want to call me a Smart Growth advocate, go ahead. I’d rather be that than a dumb growth advocate. Smart Growth is not no growth.”

Another large problem some see with the KRCC documents are their source, said Kitsap County Property Owners Executive Director Vivian Henderson. Opponents are wary of the KRCC, which they say was supposed to be an advisory body only, making planning decisions for the county.

Made of elected representatives from the county, cities and tribes, foes say the KRCC could force communities to compromise individual goals.

“We want the people we elect to make the decisions that affect our lives,” Henderson told the council this week. “One of our biggest questions is how much power are we giving the KRCC? The more power you give the KRCC, the less autonomy you have.”

Those against the new county planning documents also argue that stakeholders like Realtors, developers and homeowners, who are most impacted by their passage, should have been involved from the beginning of the process. McClure said the KRCC will be having a stakeholders meeting on the proposed documents March 15, at which community members can make comments on the updates. Input from the public and from elected officials has always been a part of the drafting process, she added.

“Ratification by the cities is very important,” she commented.

But opponents asserted that simply updating the plans is not enough. They feel the documents need to be totally scrapped and re-drafted to make them work.

“What I’m asking the KRCC to do is basically to reevaluate whether or not their policies reflect what the community wants,” Svardh commented. “What kind of a problem they’re trying to solve by enacting these proposals and policies. And have the people who are voting within the cities who are voting for these policies read them and debated them and (do they) really understand what they mean?”

The issue is not as easy as throwing out the documents and starting over, Councilman Rudolph cautioned. All jurisdictions are required by the state GMA to have such policies in place, he said, noting he felt it was better to stay the course and support the revisions.

“This is the 1992 planning policies with proposed amendments, if we don’t amend it, we still have the 1992 policies, it’s not a matter of throwing this all out,” Rudolph commented. “What we’re trying to do is make it better but not eliminate what we already have there.”

Sidebox:

To read a complete text of the newest Countywide Planning Policies, go to www.kitsapgov.com/boards/KRCCdocE.pdf

A stakeholders meeting will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 15 at the Kitsap Fairgrounds Eagles Nest and is open to the public

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