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‘City’ of Kingston? Stern says town could benefit from incorporation

KINGSTON — Residents and business owners left a May 8 luncheon with plenty to think about, including ways to create economic vitality in the area as well as the notion of incorporating Kingston as a city.

“Economic development is an art,” luncheon speaker Ed Stern said. “Art is in the eye of the beholder, and you better know who you’re painting for.”

Stern is most locally known as a member of the Poulsbo City Council. He didn’t speak, however, as a representative of Poulsbo. He was invited to discuss economic development with Kingston residents in his role as president of the board of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Federal Economic Development District.

The luncheon was hosted by the Greater Kingston Economic Development Committee at the Kingston Cove Yacht Club. The committee also invited consultant Jeff Marcell, former CEO of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, to join Stern.

Stern said one way to know who “you’re painting for,” economically speaking, is incorporation — turning Kingston into a city, Stern said. Of the many unincorporated communities in Kitsap, Stern said, Kingston has the most potential.

“I predicted that Kingston will incorporate, whenever that is, before Silverdale does, because Kingston is an organic community. Silverdale isn’t,” Stern said later.

“[Silverdale] was pasted together. People don’t necessarily identify with the community [in Silverdale], rather, it’s an area they live in. Kingston has been there a long time. It has been growing slowly and has an identity. It lends itself to a discussion of incorporation.”

The topic didn’t take off in conversation much further than Stern’s speech.

“He brought [incorporation] up two or three different ways,” said Jerry Kirschner of the Greater Kingston Economic Development Committee. “No one in the audience commented on it significantly.”

He added, “I think [incorporation] will probably continue to come up.”

Kirschner commented that being an unincorporated Kingston can have advantages, but it can also be a “double-edged sword.”

“You don’t have a lot of resources and services that an incorporated community has,” he said. “The other edge is that if you want to do something, you get involved and do it yourself. And I think that plays to the strengths of Kingston. A lot of people volunteer their time and get things done in Kingston.”

Stern’s nod toward incorporation came in tandem with his main point — that Kingston should be careful what it wishes for.

“You don’t want to bring something into the community that the community doesn’t really want, but a few do who are convinced that economic development is the goal,” he said.

In other words, wanting to become economically vital is a good goal, but it must be done with all interests involved. One method of inclusion is incorporation.

“Incorporation is a feedback loop and that can be very important,” Stern said. “Obviously, if you are incorporated you are doing votes of your citizens, instead of advisory committees.”

Kingston had 2,099 residents in the 2010 Census, with 1,040 housing units. The median age is 47.7; the median household income is $44,375, according to the Census.

Public services are provided by Kitsap County;  law enforcement is provided by the county sheriff’s office.

Closer to home, fire protection is provided by North Kitsap Fire & Rescue. Kingston voters established and fund the Village Green Metropolitan Park District to maintain Village Green Park. The Kingston Citizens Advisory Council takes local concerns to the County Commission.

Cityhood brings a sense of local control and self determination, he said. But Stern realized that the topic isn’t popular with everyone. He was also aware that his audience might not be open to his words of caution.

“It’s a dangerous group to speak to like that,” Stern said, pointing out that the crowd leaned heavily toward the business side.

“You don’t have a broad community here (at that meeting), you have people speaking from the same hymnal and that is dangerous for economic development,” Stern said, noting that Kingston has a variety of interest groups and that economic development should consider everyone.

“If we have a large retirement community in the area, how are you addressing [and] protecting their interests? Which could very well be maintaining the status quo — keep it small, don’t change it.”

The luncheon was the second in a three-part series of luncheons organized by the Greater Kingston Economic Development Committee. One more luncheon is planned: May 20, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The meal costs $17. The event is open to the public. Guest speakers: John Powers, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance; Mary Jo Juarez, a business counselor with the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance; and Larry Keeton, director of community development for Kitsap County.

“Our plan is to get people with a tremendous amount of experience, bring them into Kingston so we as locals can gain from their knowledge and interact with them,” Kirschner said.

The luncheons are part of a larger goal of getting the conversation started about economic development in Kingston. Part of that discussion is the idea of a new hotel. The committee is currently raising money for a market study to look into the possibility.

The study comes on the heels of a survey that produced more than 170 responses gauging community perceptions and wants for Kingston.

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