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Commissioners adopt 60-day development moratorium

The Kitsap County commissioners meeting last week began the same as always, with the Pledge of Allegiance, but there was a slight modification. After the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” a member of the audience added “including developers.”

This prayer was unanswered, as the commissioners adopted a 60-day emergency ordinance imposing a development moratorium in some of the county’s urban-growth areas.

The moratorium was in response to a recent ruling by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board concerning questions over providing sewer service to recently added UGAs in Silverdale, Port Orchard, Gorst, West Bremerton and Central Kitsap.

“I hate moratoriums,” said Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown. “I am completely frustrated by all of this. We need to work on developing some interim measures to get this moving along.”

The moratorium was established for six months, or 180 days. However, the commissioners resolved to address and correct any concerns — and therefore return to business as usual — as soon as possible.

Developers feel a full moratorium is too harsh. Teresa Osinski of the Homebuilders’ Association of Kitsap County called the measure “a knee-jerk reaction where there are some other alternatives.”

“We don’t have a choice,” South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said. “The choice they have given us is vague, so we need to nail down some clarity. We need to investigate alternatives and do so in a timely manner.”

Angel, who is usually most aligned of the three commissioners with the development community, made the initial motion to approve the moratorium.

There also was the sense that any action taken would cost the county money that it could not afford. South Kitsap resident Kris Danielson warned that imposition of the moratorium would prompt developer lawsuits, “which will cost the county money whether it wins or loses.”

North Kitsap resident Charlie Burrow countered that not imposing the moratorium would result in heavy fines.

All but five of the 16 meeting attendees who addressed the board during the public comment session opposed the moratorium. Many argued the moratorium would disrupt their business and interrupt projects already in progress.

“This is extremely bad for business,” said developer Paul Mower. “Those of us who provide jobs don’t know what to do. Should we put our employees’ salaries on moratorium?”

Fred Depee, a member of the Kitsap County Planning Commission, said the moratorium represented a reaction by the commissioners, saying, “You’re just doing to us what has been done to you.

“You need to do this in a smarter way and make it more specific,” he said. “If you impose a moratorium, you need to let people know exactly what it’s for. And projects that are already in progress should be exempt, if the developers will sign a disclaimer and promise to not take action later.”

Consultant William Palmer of Port Orchard said a lack of action by Kitsap County officials has already jeopardized several projects.

“Some individual investors face possible bankruptcy if they’re unable to proceed with their development plans,” Palmer said. “Others who are planning projects may simply go to some other jurisdiction where there is more certainty in the planning and zoning process.

“Both situations,” he said, “will have a detrimental impact on the county’s ability to develop and maintain a viable private sector based economy.”

Those speaking in favor of the moratorium said it was necessary to stop development for the time it will take to determine the location of proposed sewer installation.

“It may be tough for a developer to postpone a project for six months,” said Central Kitsap resident Jim Sommerhauser, also a member of the Planning Commission. “But we have no choice. We need to find interim solutions that protect our investments and protect our tax money from lawsuits.” 

The commissioners instructed Kitsap County Department of Community Development Director Larry Keeton to examine every possible alternative to a moratorium, and to present this data at a future meeting. At present, this presentation and public comment are scheduled for the Nov. 5 regular commissioners’ meeting.

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