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Community draws the line over annexation issues

POULSBO — Just as a popular method of annexing land into the city has been reinstated, so has a perennial problem regarding annexations — who wants to be in and who doesn’t.

At its May 12 meeting, the Poulsbo City Council was presented with the Finn Hill and Hamar annexation petitions. Both were being challenged by citizens who say they’re being forced to join the city against their will.

The Finn Hill issue was heard in a public hearing last Wednesday.

It encompasses about 26 properties off Finn Hill Road between State Highway 3 and just west of Urdahl Road for a total of about 90 acres. With council’s approval, the next step would be to send the issue to the Boundary Review Board (BRB) and then to approve or deny it with a council ordinance.

But one citizen’s objection to being included in the Finn Hill annexation caused council to unanimously decide to table the issue until its June 2 meeting. Finn Hill Road resident Gordon Wood’s property is required to be included in the annexation because a 5-foot portion of his western neighbor’s property juts into his parcel just enough to create an unincorporated island without his inclusion. Council members asked if there was a possibility of allowing Woods to stay unincorporated, but staff believe the property will need to be included or the entire 90-acre annexation would be voided.

“My guess is, the BRB would not allow it because we’d be creating an intentional island and our job is to create logical boundaries,” Planning Director Barry Berezowsky explained.

But what staff could not answer was whether or not the 5-foot strip of land, owned by the Wales family, was an integral part of the rest of the Wales’ property. City Attorney Jim Haney did say that if it was not necessary to the annexation, leaving the 5-foot Wales parcel out could allow Wood to stay out of the city for now — though not likely forever since the Wood property is within Poulsbo’s Urban Growth Area (UGA) boundary.

“I just can’t see why we would want to force someone to become a citizen of Poulsbo and have an angry citizen the rest of their lives unless they’re keeping other people from being citizens,” Councilman Dale Rudolph said. “I don’t think this is the case.”

But the two-time objection of another unincorporated area resident was not enough to sway council’s opinion in the Hamar proposal. The letter of intent for annexation before council last week concerned a 3.25-acre, single property owned by Dana Hamar, wanting to be added to Bergquist annexation, which was before council in December 2003. Bergquist regards three parcels at the east end of Mesford along both sides of Noll Road totalling about 30 acres.

Hamar originally wanted have his land included in the December 2003 Bergquist annexation but his inclusion would have made neighbor Donald Hillier’s land an unincorporated Island. Hillier is not interested for reasons including taxes he does not wish to pay in the city, Planner Edie Berghoff explained. Despite his neighbor’s objection, Hamar has been trying to annex into the city for quite some time, even through the nearly two-year stint that the popular petition method of annexation was disallowed.

“If the Bergquist were not before you, Mr. Hamar could petition by himself but since it is, Mr. Hamar has no choice to join or to not be a part of it,” Berezowsky explained to council. “He followed our subarea plan very patiently and waited very patiently to become part of the city. I think the circumstances have led him to this position.”

“Now what we have a case of is someone who wants to be in and someone who wants to not be in and we can’t split the baby so we’ve got to choose,” Rudolph commented.

Council unanimously decided to allow the combination. The next step for this proposal is for the petitioners to seek signatures from 50 percent of the property owners and 50 percent of the registered voters living in the intended annexation area. If they are successful, the issue will be back before the council in a public hearing.

But council members and community members alike expressed concern about the larger issues surrounding annexations. In 2002, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the most-used petition method of annexation unconstitutional. That ruling certainly slowed the number of proposals reaching the council. However, in the last year legislature granted cities the new 50/50 method and the court reversed its 2002 decision, giving way to a rush of petitioners.

But there is an equal number of people who have no wish or intention to join the city. Clear Creek Road resident Jennifer Forbes urged council members to carefully consider the choices they’re making when it comes to annexations. She said she moved to her home two years ago from South Kitsap seeking a more rural setting and she worried that continued additions to the city were going to overdevelop her area.

“I hope you think about the fact that as you creep out in that area, you’re diminishing the quality of life of people who live in your own city,” she said.

Forbes added she hoped that if the Finn Hill annexation were allowed, Poulsbo would not extend its UGA any further west.

But area resident Phil Swenson said he hoped that Poulsbo would someday extend its UGA into the Rhododendron Lane and Vinland Elementary area.

“Because all the utilities are out there except sewer and god knows in this day and age, you have to have sewer,” Swenson said.

Councilman Mike Regis said such conflicts are likely going to continue as Poulsbo grows. He suggested that the council soon examine its policies regarding annexations, especially ones that create jagged city boundaries in the interest of allowing UGA residents to stay their inclusion into Poulsbo.

“We’re allowing interested parties to come on board at the same time we’re choking off our access to remnants and hem lines and ragged rug edges ... I have to say, I’m not impressed with the city’s approach,” Regis said.

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