Battle is joined over Silverdale Campus site

Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin, the CK Community Council and consultants were recently ambushed by 100 very angry Old Town business owners.

All carrying pitchforks and burning torches — metaphorically speaking.

The meeting Thursday evening at the Community Center was supposed to be a standard work session for the Council’s Community Planning Committee. But after businessman Gus Housen distributed his inflammatory bright-red flyers to neighbors in Old Town earlier, the agenda went out the window and Council members and consultants found themselves up against the wall, assailed by questions and accusations about the preliminary plans for the Silverdale Community Campus in Old Town.

“Who will pay for it? Where are the taxes coming from? If privately developed, who’ll own it? Who’s going to pay us to move out? Why haven’t we heard of this before?” asked Housen in rapid succession. “I wrote this red flier because I wanted local business owners to know about this. I am not here to make friends. A lot of people I talked to didn’t know about this.”

Local real estate businessman Ron Ross asked “How did it get to this point?” without Old Towners knowing about it? “It was like it was done in the dead of the night. We need an introduction.”

Housen’s flyer stated 40 businesses in Old Town will be forced out if the Council has its way and builds the new Community Campus there. The term “campus” refers to a redeveloped downtown for the county’s unincorporated retail center. Housen’s flyer also warned there will be reduced visibility and traffic jams along half the length of Silverdale Way when it gets narrowed. He said another nearly two dozen businesses will be affected by this. He warned business owners that Bayshore Drive would disappear and the whole campus would “cost taxpayers in excess of $20 million.”

The flier concluded “Attend Thursday ... to find out how Kitsap Commissioner Tim Botkin and the Central (Kitsap) Community Council want to obliterate small businesses in Silverdale and increase your taxes!”

Carl Johnson, president of the CK Community Council, and Botkin managed to quiet the crowd.

They apologized for not specifically including Old Town business owners from the beginning of the planning process, which began a year ago. They explained that part of the reason for this was to keep property values from skyrocketing once it became common knowledge that Old Town was picked as best location for redevelopment.

They also said it wasn’t much of a secret, since local papers have been reporting on the campus and publishing meeting dates for months. “We begged the public to attend,” said Johnson. They added that it’s the citizens’ duty to pay attention and attend meetings. They said it’s a long-term project, stretching over decades, and no business owner has to move out if they don’t want to.

The crowd still grumbled as Johnson presented a condensed version of the project.

Commissioners voted unanimously June 3 to support the preliminary concept, assembled by the CKCC and consultants. Ideally, said Johnson, the Community Campus will be a community center of about 18 acres featuring a new, much larger library, paid for with a voter-approved bond, and with senior housing above to secure federal funds; an all-purpose community center for meetings, events; housing; a teen center; a performing arts component; outdoor swimming pool; playground and ball field; transit facilities; community clinic; Sheriff’s precinct; and parking; changes to Silverdale way and other roads to make Silverdale more pedestrian friendly. Passage of Ref. 51 is needed to enable road changes, added Botkin. This elicited groans from the audience.

The Council, an appointed body (by Botkin) to act in lieu of a city council for unincorporated CK and Silverdale, has been planning the project for several years. The cost will rely on how much land the county can acquire.

Johnson said “Nothing is cast in concrete.” Current plans are in the form of four loosely drawn versions — all of which may be rejected if Old Towners are dead set against the idea. Johnson said the idea is to change Silverdale from being a community “attached” to a mall, to a community which includes a mall.

The crowd was finally mollified when officials admitted that “obviously” more and larger public sessions need to be held at times and dates to be set.

“I’m willing to sign my name in blood that this early plan will not happen unless all of you agree,” said Botkin.

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