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Commissioners concerned county can't support development under RWIP
KITSAP COUNTY — Questions.
No decisions, no solutions, no alternatives, but lots of very in-depth questions.
That's where the Board of County Commissioners stands on the Rural Wooded Incentive Program (RWIP) after a two-hour work study session Wednesday morning.
RWIP aims to provide land owners with incentives to keep open space, preserve public access to open space, while providing for greater density.
Some 50,000 acres in Kitsap are eligible for residential development, however, previous commissioners approved an experimental version of RWIP, which allows 5,000 acres to be developed in 500-acre blocks.
Some of the developable acreage is zoned for one dwelling unit per 20 acres. Under RWIP, the density increases to four homes per 20 acres, but the structures must all be clustered on 25 percent of the land. The remaining 75 percent will be open space.
But the potential density allowed under RWIP is dramatic: The 4,000 acres in Port Gamble owned by Olympic Property Group can have 200 homes built on it, while under RWIP, 800 homes could be built.
The potential for heightened density and the county's ability to provide services to urban levels of growth in rural areas are the top causes of concern for commissioners.
"It's going to be a big challenge to the county to develop services out there," Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said. "More people demand more services. How do we preserve open space and allow for development, and how do we service those areas?"
North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer lives in Hansville, an area considered rural in the county, and spoke firsthand to the residents' concerns: inadequate police protection, access to fire services and the road conditions during last winter's snow storms.
"I agree entirely with Josh, what's the most efficient way to provide services?" Bauer said. "It's going to be very significant financial burdens for the local government."
The commissioners also have their concerns. Theirs run the gamut from meeting the county's agricultural needs, what Kitsap's population will look like 20 years from now and the definition of "rural."
"We're pretending we only have to resolve this for 20 years. We need to make sure we're looking beyond that," said South Kitsap Comissioner Charlotte Garrido, herself a farmer. "I think farmland should be considered. We have reached a time in our culture where we can't continue to import food. If we are going to be producing our own food at any level in Kitsap County, what are we going to do to make that happen?"
Indirectly tied to RWIP is preserving public access to thousands of acres of trails in North Kitsap.
Some contend that if 20-acre development occurs, then it will be the end of public trail access, whereas development under RWIP could preserve that access. Hundreds of hours of volunteer work have already taken place to develop an extensive trail system.
The commissioners understand the importance of trail access; however, they say trails can exist without RWIP.
"I think we ought to step back from assuming the only way we can achieve some of those other values (trails) is with this (RWIP)," Bauer said. "I don't want to get one tied to the other."
Bauer said county assessors say when an owner builds on 20 acres, he usually builds on only one acre and leaves the rest as open space.
The commissioners agree there are benefits to RWIP and benefits to lower density, and they'd like to know what some of those marginal benefits are and what exactly the trade off might look like.
"I think this program has potential benefits, but what's the cost? What's the tradeoff between the benefit and the cost?" Bauer asked.
The commissioners asked county staff for illustrations on what development of the full 50,000 acres would look like, and models and examples of how programs similar to RWIP have worked throughout Washington and the nation.