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Olhava development tempers Bruce’s tenure

POULSBO — As she prepares to hand over the governing reins to Councilwoman Kathryn Quade, Mayor Donna Jean Bruce need only to look to the north to see where it all began.

Bruce was first appointed to the council in 1988 and became mayor almost 10 years later when Mayor Mitch Mitchusson unexpectedly resigned after being re-elected in 1997.

She ran unopposed to serve the remainder of his term before soundly defeating Councilman Mike Regis in 2001 for her first full term. In the November 2005 election, she lost to Quade marking the conclusion of almost 20 years of government service.

“It probably all did start with Olhava because it took nine months of public hearings to even get that approved,” she said, noting that Mitchusson excused himself from those hearings.

As deputy mayor, Bruce recalled how she was suddenly thrust into the position of overseeing the largest development in the city’s history.

“Up to that point, I didn’t have a clue how to run a meeting but you learn really fast,” she said.

The Olhava development was the biggest thing city officials had ever heard about and much less talked about, she said.

One of the major factors in the length of the hearings was a group that Bruce termed “no growth” who testified throughout the duration.

“Their reasoning in my mind just wasn’t sound and eventually it passed and then we waited until they finally started working,” she said.

The first piece of the Olhava puzzle was the Olympic College campus, which had to be completed to secure the funding from the state Legislature, she said.

“It has to do with funding because you know how the state legislature is,” Bruce said.

“They give you money but in the next breath they take it away and that’s what happened,” she said.

All of the council made phone calls to legislators supporting the project and several city officials and others, but former state senator Betti Sheldon was the one legislator who pushed the project toward completion, she said.

“Everybody got together and got it done,” she said with a smile. “That was great.”

Now 10, years later, Bruce still eyes the development with a piqued curiosity as retail construction has finally begun.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if they can get built out and see what else happens up there,” she said.

With the actual construction and future openings of Wal-Mart and The Home Depot up on the hill, the council has adjusted the city’s 2006 budget to account for some of that increased revenue.

However, since the city has held the line with budget increases for the past 11 years, Bruce said she has some slight reservations.

“I just hope the money comes in that they’re expecting to come in,” she said. “That could be a concern, so we’ve got to make sure we patronize Wal-Mart.”

Even though Olhava’s full potential has yet to be realized, one project that has come into its own is Poulsbo Place, which has occurred with Bruce at the helm.

“It was a new kind of development and it was a nationwide popularity,” she said. “It was in all kinds of national magazines, national architectural magazines and what not.”

Poulsbo Place reinvigorated former Navy housing that was built during World War II to house workers at Keyport before it became known as The Project.

“It was necessary but then it just deteriorated over the years and it was really bad,” she recalled. “To see it all gone and see something bright and new was kind of cool.”

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