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Condos can be built up to 60 feet

The Bremerton City Council showed as much division as the community it represents in making a 5-4 decision Wednesday to allow 60-foot building heights on Highland, Pleasant and Washington avenues.

Public comment rattled on for hours as dozens shared their opinions on whether 40, 50 or 60-foot limits should be allowed.

Most came to support a “the higher, the better” stance while some of the residents of the four-block area affected by the limits spoke against destruction of eagle habitats and the neighborhood’s historic character.

Helen Miller got the first word, expressing concern about traffic on narrow streets and asking for clarification whether the 60-foot limit is measured to the eaves, effectively allowing 75 feet in total height, or to the highest point on the roof.

Director of Community Development Chris Hugo replied that the rooftop would be the standard.

While those against the 60-foot limit were certainly the majority, opponents trickled in as the meeting wore on, as judged by the applause given after each person stepped to the podium to share their thoughts.

Most of the project’s supporters came from the business community, concerned with downtown having enough density to support and attract more investment.

“Recruitment and retention is one of the most pressing (issues) for Harrison Medical Center. Quality of life is the emerging factor,” read Elliot Gregg of Kitsap Credit Union, from a letter written by Scott Bosch, Harrison President and CEO.

“We’ve been successful because of the growth in this community ... and want to continue to see more of that growth,” said Tim Waibel, co-owner of Simon August, who wished to make it clear his support came purely from a business standpoint.

Silivia Klatman, executive director of the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed the 60-foot limits last week, also spoke in favor of higher buildings.

“(Height) creates that density level ... needed for businesses,” Klatman said. “That’s what this really boils down to. Some of the downtown businesses, old and new, are really struggling.”

However, Virginia Starr, a resident of the area in question, felt strongly that the condominiums were not in tune with the Highland neighborhood.

“There is eagle habitat there on Washington ... and also on Highland. We could lose that there on the water. If you don’t live on the street, you don’t know about it,” Starr said. “Influential people don’t live here (in the neighborhood). This would never be happening if this weren’t so.”

Starr was followed in making remarks by Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent, representing the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority as its chair.

“Extending the moratorium on building heights would be a negative signal to (investors),” Lent said. “Underground parking is absolutely tantamount to (the) decision.”

Developers have said with any limit below 60 feet, an underground parking garage would not be possible. The moratorium, which would have extended to Dec. 6, became a moot point once the 60-foot limit passed.

In discussing the matter, council members showed their division.

“It became apparent that 60-foot heights would not fit in ... with single-family homes,” Councilwoman Wendy Priest said. “My fear is that with 60 feet, we will forever change the historic character of Highland Avenue.”

“Harborside Park and Evergreen Park ... these are all amenities that are directly attached to people living in downtown Bremerton,” Councilman Will Maupin said. “The more people, the better. I would have actually preferred a height higher than 60 feet but that is not on the table tonight.”

The public was on the edge of their seats as the first four council-persons, Diane Robinson, Carol Arends, Maupin and Nick Wofford voted in favor of 60-foot limits. Then, Brad Gehring, Priest, Adam Brockus and Mike Shepherd voted no. Council president Cecil McConnell cast the deciding vote.

The most vocal opponent of the higher building heights during the evening was distraught afterward.

“They’re making us scapegoats for what they consider the betterment of our community,” Starr said. “I came from Fremont, and believe me, the condos are not impressive. I think the people in Bremerton are in for a big surprise.”

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