Growth hearings board upholds Urban Paths of Poulsbo Plan

POULSBO — The Growth Management Hearings Board ruled March 11 that the City of Poulsbo’s Urban Paths of Poulsbo Plan does not compromise private property rights or threaten salmon habitat.

The board also ruled that the city provided adequate public notice of meetings regarding the plan.

“Even though we lost this case — we’ve won a few — at least we’re trying to get [the city] to think about the precious things we have here,” said Jan Wold, one of three plaintiffs that challenged the plan. “I’m supportive of trails, but there’s a place to put them and a place to not put them.”

The board heard testimony Jan. 28 from Wold, Rita Hagwell and Molly Lee  that a trail in West Poulsbo would harm Johnson Creek, a salmon-bearing stream and city-designated wildlife corridor.

City officials say the trail is conceptual only — a line on a map noting where a trail would be located only if property owners agree to it in the future. But a portion of that line is drawn onto Hagwell’s property; she opposes a trail there and fears the conceptual line diminishes her property value and is the first step toward a taking.

Should she decide to sell her property in the future, “buyers will be deterred when informed that a public trail system will adversely impact their exclusive use of the property,” according to the complaint.

Lee and Wold also own property in the Johnson Creek watershed. Wold, a longtime advocate for increased protection for Johnson Creek, cited a March 16, 2012 Herald column about Wilderness Park as an example of how environmental sensitive areas can be negatively impacted by public trails.

In the column, the writer wrote about trash he encountered on the trail: tissue paper left behind in plants next to the trail, plastic bottles and aluminum cans tossed aside, bottles and cans clogged against a log jam, cigarettes snuffed out and left on the trail.

“It’s a good example of what happens when you attract people,” Wold said. “A lot of people don’t know [Wilderness Park] is there and it’s still a problem.”

The petitioners also alleged the City of Poulsbo failed to appropriately consider private property rights when enacting the trails plan, made changes to the trails plan without public notification, and failed to give special consideration to conservation or protection measures necessary to preserve or enhance fish and wildlife as required by state law.

The Urban Paths of Poulsbo Plan is a network of pedestrian ways that connects to a regional network of trails. That regional network, in turn, connects to a network of trails that stretches across the state. The West Poulsbo portion is within the city’s Urban Growth Area, so development of a trail there would require annexation as well as permission from property owners.

But petitioners said the city was arbitrary in how it came up with trail sites — a proposed trail on Bjorgen Creek was removed, yet a proposed trail along Johnson Creek, a salmon-bearing stream and city-designated wildlife corridor, remains on the plan.

City officials said they hope a Johnson Creek-area trail would someday connect to the Clear Creek trail, which winds south to Dyes Inlet.

“I am quite concerned about the terrible and unnecessary impact to fish, wildlife and the environment if Poulsbo follows through with the trails the city is proposing next to creeks and on the water's edge around all of Liberty Bay,” Wold said before the Jan. 28 hearing.

“I think trails are a great idea and I have decades of experience planning, working on and using thousands of miles of trails in the Forest Service. Trails need to be sited in an intelligent fashion and many of these proposed Poulsbo trails aren't.”

Mayor Becky Erickson said later that the city was responsive to petitioners’ concerns for the creek, and broadened the buffer between trail and creek to 300 feet.

The petitioners also questioned the legality of Poulsbo City Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist’s advocacy for the Johnson Creek-area trail; the trail would go through a portion of property she owns and wants to develop, and she is also president of the North Kitsap Trails Association. The trails association has long worked to develop a network of land and water trails in North Kitsap.

“There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on her part,” City Attorney James Haney said at the hearing.

In an email Tuesday, Erickson said she was “relieved and pleased” by the board’s decision and that the board “understood the intent of the trail plan and public outreach process.”

She wrote, “The Urban Paths of Poulsbo is a great plan that was crafted over a three-year period with hours of citizens’ guidance and influence. One of the things that makes a city a great place to live is the ability of its citizens to enjoy open spaces and public recreation. The trail plan was designed for this purpose: so the citizens of Poulsbo could enjoy their community while not harming the private property rights of their neighbors. It is a great plan.”

Wold said she didn’t know if she and her co-petitioners would appeal the board’s decision; they have 10 days from the date the order was mailed to do so. But she’s still convinced that trails will not be good to salmon habitat and the shoreline.   “It really is harmful to the bay, to the waterfowl and the public,” she said. “We tried to get [the city] to negotiate, but the city wasn’t willing to change anything. My main concern was the environmental side of it, in particular.”


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