A split decision will move retreat forward

POULSBO — Nearly one year ago, a conditional use permit application spurred the Poulsbo City Council to rethink the value of Old Town Poulsbo.

Last week, the scene replayed itself in another portion of Poulsbo’s oldest residential area and neighbors are once again concerned about the character of their area.

In a 3-3 vote with Mayor Donna Jean Bruce breaking the tie July 14, the Poulsbo City Council approved a CUP for the Wonderland Retreat Center. Councilmen Jeff McGinty, Mike Regis and Dale Rudolph voted nay, while Councilmen Ed Stern and Jim Henry and Councilwoman Kathryn Quade voted in favor. Councilwoman Connie Lord recused herself because she lives in the area of the proposal.

The decision may allow applicant Laurie Bevan to operate a craft/quilting retreat house for short-term (two to seven night) stays of groups of no more than 12 at 459 NE Hostmark Street just east of Murphy House Bed and Breakfast. A furnished work room for crafts, bedrooms and a kitchen would be supplied but no meals would be served to guests.

Planner Karla Boughton explained that a CUP was required because a short-term guest lodge or rental for crafting purposes is not among the listed allowed uses in Poulsbo code.

“So instead of listing every single kind of use possible, we do a similar-use determination,” Boughton explained. “We thought, given what she wanted to do, it was most like a bed and breakfast. Our zoning code in low-density residential says a bed and breakfast is permitted with a CUP.”

But about 14 hot-under-the-collar speakers last Wednesday felt granting the CUP was a bad idea. Even recused Councilwoman Lord and her husband wrote letters in opposition to the approval.

Dana Curtis of Ness Place argued that having a business located in a single-family residence neighborhood could harm house values and create more traffic at an already dangerous intersection.

“Basically, it doesn’t seem fair that we’re living in single-family residence and she’s going to get a commercial permit but not have a commercial status,” Curtis said.

Curtis explained that by likening the retreat to a bed and breakfast, the city was falsely explaining what the facility would be like. Neighbors have no qualms with the Murphy House but are worried that the nature of the business described for Wonderland makes it more of a hotel, motel or inn, which are not allowed in residential areas. Kent Lord of Ness Place called the bed and breakfast designation an imaginary moniker “in an attempt to shoehorn this application into a place where it doesn’t fit.”

The proposed retreat is also located in the Old Town Study area. The $20,000 document started last year and though a draft of the findings has been issued, no council decisions regarding the Old Town area have been made.

“I think something should be done with that study before they make a decision like this,” Curtis said.

A former knitter and weaver, Robert Carpenter of Fjord Drive said he’s also concerned about a craft-based retreat’s impact on downtown merchants. The Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association counts among its ranks two knitting shops, one quilters store and a bisque painting studio.

“I feel this will make more competition and I don’t know whether it’s fair or unfair,” he said.

Poulsbo City Council members and the applicant have been instructed not to comment on the proceedings until after the findings of fact are approved.

The findings of fact are expected to be before the city council at its Aug. 4 meeting, after which there will be a 21-day appeal period. If the findings are approved and no appeals are made, the applicant may then begin preparing her property for the use.

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