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Staying separate in Kitsap County

In an unusual move, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council is going to take public comment on three options for the highly controversial “separators” proposal.

At an April 8 KRCC meeting, it quickly became apparent that the board members — particularly those representing city governments — were not ready to vote on the issue. The idea of separators, which calls for non-urban rings around urbanized areas, is a new one in Kitsap County. Many city officials have balked at the idea of possibly being fenced in by a boundary designed to prevent urban sprawl.

“I have real heartburn, point-blank, with putting a rural zone around a city,” said Port Orchard City Councilman John Clauson.

Port Orchard, with a long, unpleasant history of fighting with the county over greenbelts — particularly the one that separates the McCormick Woods urban growth area (UGA) from the city — has moved to the front of the debate. The city, represented by Mayor Jay Weatherill, has expressed to the KRCC its vehement objection to an additional urban boundary. The city believes the tenets of the Growth Management Act dealing with urban sprawl already adequately deal with the situation.

Poulsbo also agrees with this assessment and has submitted its objections, as well.

The main force behind the separators has been Bremerton, which suffers from its proximity to Silverdale. The separators were designed to prevent the blurring of urban boundaries, and Bremerton officials said they are already having community identity issues due to the current lack of clear boundaries.

Because the separators are proposed to be part of the Countywide Planning Policy — a document with which all cities are required to comply in their comprehensive plans — the debate has taken on a special urgency. Once the policy changes are in place, individual cities will not be able to opt out.

To accommodate the different points of view, Kitsap County planning staff have devised three options for consideration: no action, mandatory separators and conditionally optional separators.

The third option is the most accommodating to the various opinions — it effectively requires a separator between Bremerton and Silverdale but allows the other cities to reject separators around their own UGAs. This will permit cities more latitude in the future and allow them to request a separator if it becomes necessary.

KRCC director Mary McClure said Poulsbo has already started expressing concerns about its eventual boundary with Silverdale and the associated problems it wishes to avoid.

“I don’t think they’re done with this concept by any means,” McClure said.

The board decided to send all three options out for public comment — a rare choice — so the comment process would not be held up while Port Orchard and Poulsbo discuss the matter further, McClure explained. Although all the cities have talked about the proposed policy changes informally — the Port Orchard City Council brought it up during its last March meeting — both Poulsbo and Port Orchard want a chance to bring it to a formal vote before their individual councils.

McClure said the KRCC is willing to accommodate that, especially now that there are three choices instead of just one.

“In reality, the cities have been working with progressive drafts of this document for six months — a long time,” McClure said.

Port Orchard and Poulsbo will have until May 6 — the end of the public comment period — to come to a final decision on the three options.

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