Public forum reveals preservationist mood

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?The chicken, according to 58 percent of those who attended a land-use forum held at the Silverdale Community Center March 22. But that was just the beginning of the acrimony at the forum, which aimed to find out if rural character and environmental preservation are priorities for Kitsap residents. After some two hours of polling conducted by the well-known Seattle firm of Elway Research, it appeared they are.Attendees were given electronic handsets - they resembled oversized television remotes - with buttons numbered 1-8. Land use questions appeared on a screen set up at the front of the community center, with numbered answers corresponding to the buttons on the handsets.The more than 85 Central Kitsap residents in attendance were asked to respond to the questions. Data from the unscientific poll will be used to help formulate county plans and policies on land use, watersheds, shoreline management and salmon preservation.Tonight we're going to ask you a lot of questions, said county planning director Bruce Freeland. Those questions are going to be reported and we're going to use those answers in a lot of our work.This time, for probably the first time ever, we're doing a (public involvement) effort because we think we should, said Commissioner Tim Botkin, not because someone is telling us we have to.When pollster Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research, finally got to the questions, a pro-environment, pro-rural character bent revealed itself in the crowd.Along with the crucial chicken-egg question, the unscientific polling found that:* Nearly 75 percent said that maintaining the rural character of Kitsap County is more important than encouraging residential development. In addition, 70 percent said maintaining rural character is very or somewhat important.* 82 percent said Kitsap is a very or somewhat desirable place to live.* 40 percent said they would prefer to live in a more rural setting than they do now, while 42 percent said they were happy with the setting in which they live and 19 percent said they would prefer a less rural environment.* A majority said protecting rural areas is critical or very important and a majority said the county should limit the number of homes built in rural areas.* 28 percent characterized themselves as conservationists or environmentalists.But the forum, sponsored by the Sun newspaper, was not entirely harmonious. Several snide comments were shouted during the polling, and some attendees complained that the questions and proposed answers were biased.For one question - what makes Kitsap a desirable or undesirable place to live - Elway eschewed the handsets and asked attendees to shout their answers.Some folks said Kitsap is desirable because of its rural character, natural beauty, clean water, schools, low taxes and lack of traffic problems. The last two responses drew guffaws.Others said Kitsap is undesirable because of taxes, traffic, anti-growth attitude, few parks, poor government and, alternately, lack of and too much land-use control.Similar forums were also held last week in Poulsbo and South Kitsap."

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