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Botkin, Lent spar over 'Smart Growth' in Kitsap County

When the 30 coffee cups were empty at the end of the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues” debate at the City Limits restaurant Thursday, sharp differences were drawn between CK commissioner candidates Tim Botkin and Patty Lent.

Democrat Botkin said constituents often don’t realize the “complications” in county government brought on by a lean economy and taxpayers’ initiatives limiting taxes.

But Republican Lent believes county government is too big and too intrusive. She said county staffers could be “friendlier” and, if elected, she hopes to reduce their number.

Botkin and Lent will face all county voters on Nov. 5, but the winner will only represent the Central Kitsap area.

“I like to think I have learned something new everyday,” said Botkin, who is finishing his first term.

Botkin, a lawyer, said commissioners have a consistent “... problem. We are often hearing comments that are inconsistent with reality.”

One issue that frequently arose during the hourlong Q&A session was Smart Growth — roughly defined as encouraging growth or redevelopment in existing urban areas in an attempt to control sprawl.

“The perception is that Smart Growth is cramming people into apartments or row houses and taking away their cars. That is not what Smart Growth is in Kitsap County ... It is more than what you read in the newspapers.”

Later Botkin said, “No one is going to be forced to live anywhere. It is a question of coming up with options for growth. We must work collaboratively on land use rights, environmental rights and property rights.”

Lent, a travel consultant and 15-year Kitsap resident who once owned a travel agency with 15 employees, has a clear opinion of Smart Growth.

“I am not advocating Smart Growth. It takes away the choices of people in KItsap County who want to live in the rural area and enjoy the outside and the greenery.”

Lent accused the county of being fixated on expensive studies and research that may have led, at least in part, to a $4.5 million budget shortfall.

“When a problem comes along we do research and studies and when those studies come in, sometimes decision are not ever made,” she said.

Botkin took exception.

“There is no way we spent that much money on research and endangered species studies,” he said.

Botkin admitted the county has long studied shoreline management.

“We took a position there is not enough science to allow us to tell people what they can and cannot do with their shoreline management,” he said.

One questioner wanted to know what candidates would do to attract light industry.

“I came from the business world,” Lent said. “That’s my expertise. I am looking forward to working with the EDC (Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council). It’s what this city (Bremerton) needs as well. We need to keep our brightest and smartest here in Kitsap County.”

Botkin said attracting new business is another issue that is easy to complain about, but harder to solve.

“In Washington state, we do not have tax incentives or financing that makes that (business development) inviting in our state,” he said.

He pointed to how the county had put the infrastructure in place for development projects near Port Gamble, McCormick Woods and Port Blakely near Kitsap Lake.

Items the candidates agreed on included focusing on fighting methamphetamine use in the county. They also agreed that the jail expansion project to 320 beds — when voters had only approved a much smaller facility — was a good idea because it would allow “marketing” the facility to other jurisdictions in need of jail space. That would allow the county to pay for the jail project more quickly.

At one point in the debate, Smart Growth again became an issue and caused the largest laugh to erupt from the breakfast crowd.

Lent had said she was for growth and also for protecting existing trees.

Botkin quickly alluded to his own critics: “When I say we need to control growth and protect the environment, people start jumping out of the trees.”

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