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Developers find it's not all fun and games

For years Bremerton resident Brian Ferguson dreamed of opening an amusement park that his 6-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy could fully enjoy.

He envisions a go-cart track with a special lane for disabled kids, rides with carts large enough to fit wheelchairs and other modifications.

He and his wife, Becky, plan to purchase a 5.34-acre plot behind Fred Meyer on Almira Road for the fun center provided the land can be re-zoned from urban medium to urban high.

But that hasn’t proven a simple.

The pair has spent $2,800 and a year-and-a-half on the process, and Brian, owner of A-Tech construction, is impatient. The commissioners may decide on the re-zone in July.

“Finding a piece of property that’s zoned commercial to fit was almost impossible,” Ferguson, said. “What I’m trying to do is good for kids and handicapped (people).”

The Ferguson’s plot is bordered on three sides by commercial development, and abutts the Illahee Land Trust on the fourth. It’s a logical spot for the park, Brian said, but his feedback from the county hasn’t been encouraging.

“I agree it’s a good idea,” Commissioner Tim Botkin said of the proposal.“But at the same time what’s being asked is that you take a piece of property and re-zone it, which means it can be used for anything. A re-zone has to be taken on its merits ... I’m not saying it can’t happen , it’s just a complex issue.”

Ferguson is not alone in his frustration. Despite a deficiency in recreational facilities and Growth Management Act (GMA) goals which permit their construction, many entrepreneurs say they face an uphill battle in developing such recreational facilities.

In 1999, the Kitsap Community Facilities Committee (KCFC), the precursor to the Kitsap County Public Facilities District, released a report on recreational opportunities.

“When viewed in its entirety, the Kitsap County region suffers from a dramatic shortfall of sports, convention, entertainment and recreation facilities,” the report concluded.

The task force specifically named the absence of an ice rink and it suggested government agencies and private interests partner to construct these facilities. But many sources say the county is actually hindering progress.

“The county isn’t looking at (House bill 1395) or at ways to help people,” said Barbara Kitchens, the Government affairs director for the Washington Association of Realtors. “Anything in there that is helpful to citizens they ignore ... There is lots of gray area and room for compromise.”

House bill 1395 permits cottage industries so long as they are compatible with environmental protection and foster traditional rural lifestyles.

Greg Meakin, a Central Kitsap resident who has spearheaded efforts to build an ice arena at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, attempted to use the public/private partnership model until his deal with the county went south in March.

The ice arena lease, which exchanged 186 hours of ice use annually in return for land adjacent to the Pavilion, was on the Kitsap County Commissioners March 18 agenda for consideration. But five days prior, Commissioner Tim Botkin announced the hearing was “indefinitely postponed” and Meakin, who wasn’t warned of the change of heart, didn’t hear from the county for almost two weeks.

“I feel like I’m walking around with a $4 million check that no one will cash,” Meakin said, referring to Joanne and Chuck Haselwood’s pledge to fund the project.

With hopes to build the rink by winter dashed, Meakin is considering alternative locations.

“I’m still looking closely at the Fairgrounds and I’m having an ongoing conversation with the City of Bremerton. I’m looking at a private site as well,” said Meakin, who has spent $300,000 on the project.

The glitch surfaced when county planners realized the arena was a private development, and the urban restricted zoning code which permitted the project failed to apply. County code distinguishes between public- and private-owned recreational facilities, Kelly Robinson, manager of land use for Kitsap County, told the CK Reporter in March.

Planners determined Meakin would have to apply for a conditional use permit, but the Fairgrounds Master plan must be completed first, Robinson said. The process could take months.

Cris Gears, director of Kitsap County Parks and Recreation, sees few differences in how public and private facilities are managed, and said he was puzzled by the distinction in the county code.

He added the KCFC never pondered whether the government was impeding the construction of recreational facilities.

Robert Ross battled long to build the Timber Falls mini-golf course at his driving range on State Route 303. Before it was complete he filed a suit alleging a sewer agreement for the facility was issued in 1997, then withdrawn at County Commissioner Chris Endresen’s request because Ross’ business was outside the urban growth boundary.

Ross’ is the only mini-golf course in Kitsap County.

Charges include breach of contract, interference of a business relationship and arbitrary and capricious decision-making, and Ross is seeking more than $1 million in damages for lost profits and attorney’s fees.

“If the Northwest Golf Range had been treated the same as other similarly situated (businesses), then filing claims for constitutional violations and breach of contracts would not have been necessary. It is a clear case of selective enforcement,” Ross’ attorney Patrick McMenamin told the CK Reporter in March.

Botkin called limited areas of more intensive rural development “a tool we will be using in the future.” He acknowledged the permitting process has become more intrusive over the years, but advised developers: “If they want my help, come see me early. Don’t wait until you have land purchased, and plans drawn, then ask why we won’t approve it overnight. I’d like to be useful in that regard, sometimes people tie my hands. That’s frustrating.”

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