Poulsbo: Gaining a city hall, but losing a view
By JENNIFER MORRIS
North Kitsap Herald Reporter
October 8, 2008 · Updated 10:57 AM
POULSBO — For some, a night of great theater is a rarified occasion, happening only on the most special of evenings. For residents of Poulsbo’s Third Avenue, it is a regular affair.
“Every night we look out to see, what kind of gorgeous sunset are we going to have tonight?” said Steve Gleason, who’s century-old home sits on the east side of Third, facing Liberty Bay. He recounted sights of two-part nightfalls, during which the sky’s golden orb descends behind the Olympic Mountain Range. The following brushstrokes in the clouds he called “great theater,” ushering twilight above historic downtown.
It’s a view Gleason and others now stand to lose. The impending construction of Poulsbo’s new city hall, a building designed to be Little Norway’s newest landmark, is planned for land on the west side of Third. The 30,000 square foot civic center will garrison the corner of Third and Moe Street, abutting one-way Bjermeland Place at its westernmost point. The development will do some ushering of its own, bringing in a revitalization to the edges of Poulsbo’s local commercial core.
While the change is one some residents say took them by surprise; others contend they’ve seen it coming for some time.
Losing quite a sight
Eighteen-year Third resident Sandy Kienholz voiced her concerns at a recent city council meeting, saying while she appreciated the residential design for the building’s east side — drawn up by the city to mitigate the structure’s impact on its small-scale neighbors — the structure’s overall height will block her view of the mountains and bay. Her home sits directly across from the site.
“The height is very disturbing to me,” she said. “I just feel like there was no way to input, no way to be heard, and now we live with the disappointment of having that huge thing in front of our houses.”
Gleason, who lives adjacent to Kienholz, said he was dissatisfied by the informative process. Residents were invited by Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade to take a look at photos and mockups displaying how the building will fit into the neighborhood, he said, but when it came to view obstruction, “she said no, promised not to do that. That’s not true. ... It makes the blow even that more painful.”
The home was built in 1910 by Poulsbo’s first medical doctor, Dr. Slippern. Gleason and his wife Hildur remodeled it and moved in last year. Gleason’s brother-in-law Wally Oyen, who grew up in the house purchased by his father in 1940, said its view was part of the reason his family procured it in the first place.
“I know that’s one of the reasons why my father bought it,” he said. “You have the entire Olympic range, from one end to the other. That’s all gone. It’s going to wipe it out.”
For Gleason, it isn’t the increased traffic or added busyness a new city hall will bring that has him concerned. In fact, the building’s location is fine with him, and he’s enjoyed watching site work progress. But there is one factor that remains upsetting.
“We thought, ‘Oh my god, they’re going to take away our sunsets.’”
The dimensions at stake constitute a building of three segments, designed that way to lessen the massing presence so it doesn’t appear as one large block, said Poulsbo Senior Planner Linda Mueller.
The new city hall site is a sloped one of about 18 feet. On it, a two-story structure with underbuilding parking is envisioned. Mueller said Poulsbo city standards require a developer to construct to an average height of 35 feet, meaning some portions may be lower or higher. The hall will range from 30 feet to 42 feet, she said. The center will sport an atrium.
To the east, Third Avenue houses sit 15 feet above roadway level — still not enough to secure the panoramic sights from their decks and windows.
“They will be looking at the top of the building,” Mueller said.
However, according to regulations, if a developer includes underbuilding parking that buys them an additional 10 feet of above-ground height, which the city chose not to take advantage of.
“They could have legally gone 10 feet higher than they actually did,” Mueller added.
The building’s silhouette is designed in a peaked fashion, its roof line meant to cover mechanical systems that would be an eyesore.
“The city I think has done a good job at managing the bulk and height of the building to at least protect to the best of our ability people’s view and the people’s enjoyment of the peace and quiet of their property,” said Poulsbo Planning Director Barry Berezowsky. “We voluntarily have tried to the best of our ability to keep the height down to the minimum possible given the need to assure we have enough space and also have an architecturally pleasing building.”
View protection ordinances, legal requirements specifically tailored at preserving views from certain locations, aren’t common or enforceable city-wide, he added. Normally, they are only found in relation to historic buildings or monuments.
“View protection ordinances are extremely rare and I’m not aware of a jurisdiction that has a view protection ordinance at all,” he said, adding such a thing would effectively shut down construction in the city. He said the city attorney has recommended Poulsbo stay away from such a regulation, as they can be “unwieldy and difficult” to mandate.
“Typically any project is going to have some impact, we hope maybe positive on the community, but there are potentially some negative consequences to development,” he said. “We try to please everyone and it’s a worthy goal. It’s just unfortunately, most of the time, difficult to achieve it.”
Oyen said it’s not atriums in their own right that he’s against. But in reference to the landmark, perhaps, he posited, the city’s scenic mountains and water are what truly draws visitors to it.
“It’s not just that we’re losing our view,” he said, “it’s that nobody is going to have that view.”
When asked what a neighborhood addition of that magnitude does to property values, Poulsbo John L. Scott agent Don Hamilton said it most likely won’t bode well.
“It’ll diminish it, which in this market is not a good thing,” he said. “Who wants to live across the street from city hall?”
The loss of a view is one thing, but the hardest part could be contending with two years of construction, he added.
Two homes on the street are currently listed for sale.
West Third resident Harlene Weatherill, a home owner on the street since 1968, said moving momentarily crossed her mind.
“Are they out of their minds? When the people of Poulsbo said they wanted city hall downtown they meant in the same area,” she said. “They didn’t mean buy another piece of land.”
Remembering what the neighborhood was like when she first moved in, “quiet,” is what she said.
“We were the noisy ones, we had four kids. Of course, there was no traffic.”
A dairy farm and golf course sat nearby, she conveyed.
Now, on a fixed income, she’s decided she’ll stick it out, though she isn’t looking forward to increased traffic — “traffic’s so bad already,” she said — and she’ll lose a part of her view.
“I can bitch,” she said with a laugh.
Gaining a neighbor
Third residents Brian and Gerrie Austin weren’t overly concerned at the project’s effects on their neighborhood.
“It’s got to go somewhere,” Brian pointed out. The two live on a lot and a half on the west side of the road they’ve had since 1973. The building won’t block their view, and the increased traffic doesn’t have them worried.
Brian noted in the recent past Martha & Mary has gone under construction, as has Poulsbo Place.
“Now it’s going to be city hall for two years, so I guess I’m used to it now.”
On the plus side, he added, the project comes with area street improvements.
“We always said that some day the street would probably go commercial. It’s starting.”
Site demolition for the city hall project is complete; the excavation process is now under way. The structure is expected to be usable by the start of 2010.
In response to Kienholz’s concern, Quade invited her to meet one-on-one to discuss the project.
Quade said the city has attempted to be as sensitive as possible to those most impacted by it. The building is meant to last 50 to 100 years in functionality.
“Obviously we have tried very hard and we will continue to try and respect the neighborhood feel of the Third Avenue east side residents that are there,” she said, adding she worked to involve citizens in the process, but “obviously I can’t have 7,480 people designing the building.”Contact North Kitsap Herald Reporter Jennifer Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-779-4464.