Preserving the nature we have left

Johnson Creek is worth preserving, says Poulsbo’s Parks and Recreation Commission.  - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Johnson Creek is worth preserving, says Poulsbo’s Parks and Recreation Commission.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

t Johnson Creek is one open space Parks and Rec wants to preserve.

POULSBO— The Johnson Creek estuary is growing loud with the splashing of the annual chum salmon run, but Poulsbo’s Parks and Recreation Commission is making a splash of its own.

The group, tasked with reviewing the city’s most recent parks and recreation comprehensive plan as part of a citywide process, has made a recommendation encouraging the identification of eligible wildlife habitat conservation areas within city limits, including the much talked about Johnson Creek.

A designation of such an area could require a developer to administer a habitat assessment before receiving project approval.

Johnson Creek sits mostly within the city’s current Urban Growth Area, and is often a topic of discussion between those who want to preserve and improve its current natural state and those who’d like it developed as part of the city’s county-mandated expansion.

The Parks and Recreation Commission addressed the area late last month.

“We are purely making recommendations,” said Commissioner Carlotta Celluci. “Ideally, I would hope that the city will identify and designate some wildlife habitat areas. I think that Johnson Creek should be included in that. It appears to be one of the last areas of high value habitat in the city.”

According to Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife mapping, Johnson Creek’s habitat contains the highest designated level of value, Celluci added.

She said the city’s current Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) doesn’t go far enough in actually designating these areas, which could imply the decision as to whether an area is a Class 1 or Class 2 value habitat would fall only to a developer or the planning department.

Celluci helped put together the commission’s recommendations, and penned an additional letter to the city giving reason behind them.

“We are a citizen advisory group,” she said. “We have no power to make any decisions. But when we find a problem I think it’s valuable for our recommendation to get to the council where it becomes public record and the citizens of the city can be involved in decision-making.”

Parks and Recreation Director Mary McCluskey said the group’s input has gone in draft form to the city attorney, who is collecting all elements of the comprehensive plan. The document will then go to the Planning Commission, followed by the full city council.

“They just want to make sure that the term or the concept of wildlife preservation areas doesn't get lost,” she said.

City Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said the stipulation the commission set focus on is already covered through the CAO, which contains 35 pages dedicated to the discussion. Like all jurisdictions, he said, natural habitat areas in Poulsbo are protected through a state agency review process, which deems if a space is a Class 1 or Class 2 area.

“The policy’s already included in the plan, the ordinance that is aimed to protect these areas already exists,” he said. “Their policy in a sense is asking us to do something we’ve already done.”

He added the recommendation may stem from a “lack of understanding” on the Growth Management Act (GMA) and the definition of fish and wildlife habitat conservancy areas.

Berezowsky said the letter will be brought forward to the council as a citizen comment.

Parks commissioner Catherine Ahl abstained from signing the rationale letter, and said she felt wildlife corridors fall more in the category of zoning.

“I didn’t feel like it was our mission,” she said, adding the city attorney and planning department — into which the jurisdiction zoning falls - both advised against the commission’s need to address the issue.

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