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Poulsbo wildlife habitat debate quieted, still concerning to some

A Comprehensive Plan debate between city leaders has grown quiet in the public sector, ushering in questions from some members of a Poulsbo Parks and Recreation commission.

Others say the issue has seen its due, has worked its way through the knots of political process as clean and simple as the inside of a Clorox jug .

Either way, the discussion has brought into focus the role of city commissions — their duties, their expertise and their bearing in the trajectory of municipal action.

The debate centers on a recommendation made by the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, which, while reviewing its section of the city's draft Comprehensive Plan, encouraged the identification of eligible wildlife habitat conservation areas within city limits, including Johnson Creek.

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

It's a recommendation that pulls into play the enforcement of the city's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), as well as residents both for and against development, especially in the hotly contested Johnson Creek area.

The creek is often a topic of contention 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.

But the draft comprehensive plan was released by city staff for public review minus the commission's recommendation.

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade wrote a letter to the commission explaining the omission. She encouraged them to focus on their duty of serving the city's parks and recreation systems.

"This is not an opportunity to further a personal agenda, nor ignore the consultation of professional staff," Quade wrote.

The message was doubly sent when, at a recent planning commission meeting, the Planning Department provided a multiple-page packet prepared by the city attorney stating the city's choice is sufficient and compliant.

To the mayor's letter, Parks and Recreation commissioners Kathryn Owen and Carlotta Cellucci drafted a response, underscoring the value of commissioners' experience and denying improper motives.

Last week, Cellucci took the issue before the Planning Commission in hopes of readdressing the topic and possibly having it included in the plan. But the meeting consisted mostly of non-related wordsmithing.

“It is completely stunning to me how much money they are spending in this kind of economy to make sure our recommendations don't see the light of day,” Cellucci said in a phone interview earlier this week, in regard to the city's attorney-prepared memorandum.

The document didn't take the full issue into account, she contended.

“(The city attorney) basically comes to the conclusion that the Poulsbo Comprehensive Plan does not need to incorporate or designate Johnson Creek, or any other area, as wildlife habitat areas,” she explained. “In my opinion, as the CAO was written, it has a mechanism for designation of these wildlife areas but it does not designate any.”

She said the two documents, the Comprehensive Plan and CAO, must work together.

Cellucci also wondered why the city “feels so threatened” by the commission's recommendations, why the topic has taken such an offensive swat.

“We're not a body that can make code, all we can do is make recommendations, and these recommendations are being killed before they get to council. I really don't understand the reason,” she said. “I really don't know why we're being fought so hard.”

Berezowsky said the issue has gone through the appropriate channels, without improper handling or squelching attempts. The argument is unnecessary as city regulations already address the topic, and no additional stipulations are required, he noted.

“The Planning Commission concurs with staff and the city attorney that (the Parks and Recreation Commission's) concern in fact has been considered and appropriately covered by both the current CAO and policies contained in the draft Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “I think the absence of any lengthy conversation about this isn't a result of the city sidelining or trying to keep quiet about it, it's simply that there's nothing to discuss.”

According to the city's Web site, the commission's raison d'être is, in part, to provide “advisory recommendations to the City Council on all regulations, resolutions, plans, policies, projects and proposals relating to the city parks system, recreational facilities or open space.”

Berezowsky said the commission's advisory role is much different than the task of providing regulatory framework on how properties are used.

Owen, who has since stepped down from her commission role, said pointing specifically to controversial Johnson Creek may have been part of the problem.

“I realized after that... that kind of put us in a certain camp,” she said. “It's just become so polarized, it's unfortunate. It makes it hard for people to look at the separate issues. Our thoughts are always a lot broader than Johnson Creek.”

She said she quit the commission in part because of an increasingly busy schedule, and in part to be sure her time is being best used.

“It's not clear to me that the city is really willing to let folks have the kinds of say that I think folks should have on that commission,” she said. “I think it's a pretty active parks commission right now, more active than previous commissions may have been.

"To what extent are they OK with people helping to make recommendations on policy?”

Poulsbo's Parks and Recreation Commission meets at city hall the fourth Monday of each month at 7 p.m.

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