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Critical Areas Ordinance nears final phase

The Kitsap County Planning Commission submitted its recommendations regarding changes to the Critical Area Ordinance (CAO) ahead of its Nov. 1 deadline, but the county commissioners still have a lot to accomplish before the Dec. 1 final deadline.

The process is expected to be time-consuming, with the commissioners examining the new document on a line-by-line basis. But the real difficulty lies in finding the time over the next month to conduct the discussions.

The Planning Commission conducted three seven-hour sessions to collect testimony over the past two months. Its final evaluation took place Monday and Tuesday. Two upcoming meetings involve the county commissioners. The Department of Community Development (DCD) will brief the commissioners at 3 p.m. on Nov. 7 and the final public testimony opportunity takes place from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Nov. 17. Both meetings will be held at the Presidents Hall on the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

Tentatively, the commissioners have scheduled discussion at their Nov. 28 meeting.

“We need time to evaluate the testimony,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “And I don’t think these long meetings are healthy. After about three hours, you’re a wet noodle.”

“The Planning Commissioners have done that three times,” North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen replied.

As the Planning Commission worked to develop the CAO second draft, the document has come under fire from the county commissioners and the planners have learned that many of its recommendations and suggestions were ignored by the county’s Department of Community Development.

The CAO puts forth regulations about stream buffers, establishing boundaries about how much land to protect. While there are range of options available, the difficulty comes in trying to reconcile the wishes of environmental hardliners with property rights advocates, who see the process as a thinly disguised land grab.

Planning Commissioner Lary Coppola questioned DCD staff about certain recommendations and changes that were supposed to be in the draft, but were apparently missing.

The DCD then said it had no clear signal from the commission the material was final, a notion with which Coppola disagreed.

“The Planning Commission was under the impression that many of the things they recommended were being recorded,” said by Kitsap Association of Realtors’ Government Affairs Director Mike Eliason. “It turns out this was not the case.”

The Planning Commission held two marathon six-hour meetings to take public testimony about the CAO, including one on Monday morning.

At that meeting, an earlier statement by Endresen that the Planning Commission was dragging its feet and should be fired ruffled many feathers.

Endresen’s statement was made at an Oct. 26 study session, and it created an immediate stir among the planning commissioners.

Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners Director Vivian Henderson said Endresen should question the cancelation of two study sessions that were scheduled for the Planning Commission this summer.

“Several planning commissioners openly expressed concern about the cancelations when there was so much work to do,” she said.

Henderson said Endresen’s “attack on the Planning Commission was vicious and very unprofessional.”

In a letter to the county commissioners, Henderson wrote, “It seems Commissioner Endresen has no tolerance for Planning Commission members who disagree with her point of view. She made it quite clear at the study session that she doesn’t think the Critical Areas Ordinance is restrictive enough. So it appears she has no interest in further input from the Planning Commission or from citizens for that matter. She has already formed her opinion and she doesn’t want the Planning Commission or anyone else to cloud the issue with anything that might disagree with her own prejudiced opinion.”

Endresen acknowledged saying that the Planning Commission should be fired if they weren’t doing their jobs. But she added the statement was made “out of frustration” and that she knows the county commissioners cannot fire members of the Planning Commission.

“I realize everyone is getting frustrated,” Endresen wrote in a letter to

Coppola. “I suggest that we all take a deep breath, turn down the rhetoric (myself included) and get to the work of defining the areas of disagreement so we can move forward.”

Some of these differences are outlined in a “minority report” document submitted by the three North Kitsap Planning Commissioners. John Ahl, one of the three, said his group’s concerns were consistently voted down and it took this legal path to make sure the concerns were made part of the record.

The Planning Commission’s final recommendations, along with the minority report document, are in the county commissioners’ hands. The board needs to present its recommendation to the county commissioners, who must submit their final CAO revisions by Dec. 1 or face a loss of state funding.

This includes a variety of different grants and loans, according to legal advice supplied to the county.

“We will make the deadline one way or another,” said Planning Commissioner Monty Mahan. “We won’t agree on everything, but in most cases we will have a majority decision. We have proposed hundreds of changes, but there’s only so much you can do.”

But there are observers who think the planning commission has squandered much of its usefulness.

Kitsap resident Jim Summerheiser said the Planning Commission’s delay assures that its recommendations will lack the detail requested by the county commissioners, due to the lost time.

This pessimism was echoed by Eliason, who said, “They can’t spend two years of the process working on the first draft and then expect to finish the second draft in two weeks.”

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