The Port Orchard City Council last week heard testimony on a
contentious land use issue — should a Gig Harbor advertising
company be allowed to put eight
billboards within city limits?
The issue grew thorny after the city initially turned down the
applications, submitted in batches last spring. James Weaver,
director of development, took the most “stringent” interpretation
of the city’s code, which is allowed and called for in another part
of the code, he said. The billboard company owner appealed to the
hearing examiner, and now the case has come before the council.
Like most cases that reach the appeal stage, there are a number
of questions in play:
Did Weaver correctly interpret the code? (The city’s hearing
examiner says so.)
Should the billboard company’s application be vested under old
rules, even though the city has since passed an ordinance banning
billboards? (The hearing examiner agrees with the owner here.)
And was the city’s ban on billboards a violation of constitutional
rights? (The hearing examiner declined to rule on this
During the hearing, the attorney representing the billboard
owner questioned the council’s ability to rule on the case since
none of them are attorneys. He railed against the process by which
the city countered his appeal, bringing the matter to the council.
He called the actions of City Attorney Greg Jacoby and attorney
Jennifer Forbes, representing the city, “frivolous” and “in bad
faith.” He said the process had gotten unnecessarily drawn out and
was wasting taxpayers’ money.
“I see a lot of blank faces here,” William J. Crittenden told
the council. “Do you think your money is being well spent?”
Before 2008, the council used to be the first stop (not the
second) in hearings on land use issues. The change was made, in
part, because of the tremendous amount of council time involved in
preparing for and conducting the hearings. The city now uses a
hearing examiner for preliminary review of land-use applications.
Where open-record public hearings on such issues were formerly held
before the city council, the open-record hearing is now held before
the hearing examiner. If the hearing examiner’s ruling is
challenged, the appeal moves to the city council.
In a work study meeting, Feb. 15, before the billboards hearing,
Councilman Rob Putaansuu questioned whether the council should be
involved at all, or whether the city should switch to a model as
such the one
adopted in 2010 by Kitsap County. Appeals that formerly came
before the county’s board of commissioners now go directly to
Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer proposed the change,
because he said having the board hear appeals created confusion
among the public. The board can only rule on whether the hearing
examiner has erred. Their ruling does not necessarily reflect the
position the board would have taken on a proposed project, Bauer
Hearing examiners generally are attorneys, and they are required
to have extensive knowledge of land use codes. A city council or
board of commissioners, on the other hand, oversees matters on a
wide range of topics, meaning they are arguably less well-equipped
to navigate the labyrinth of motions, counter-motions, arguments
and counter-arguments that make up the appeal process.
Putaansuu suggested as much, and he reminded the council that,
although they’ve only heard one other matter since going to the new
system, it, too, turned nasty. A
proposed birthing center was turned down by the hearing
examiner over neighbors’ concerns about traffic (a needed re-zone
was denied). The council initially backed the hearing examiner’s
decision. They agreed to revisit the proposal, however, as
part of a legal settlement with the owners of the center, who
took their case to Superior Court and threatened to challenge the
city’s comprehensive plan before the Central Puget Sound Growth
Management Hearings Board. The city ultimately approved the
Jacoby told the council that cities vary in their methods for
hearing appeals. Appeals in Gig Harbor and Fife go straight to
Superior Court. The Poulsbo City Council, like Port Orchard, hears
“It’s sort of an issue of how much control the council wants to
have over the process,” Jacoby said. “There’s no right answer, but
we can certainly change it.”
The council could appeal any ruling of the superior court with
which they disagree, Jacoby said.
Most of the council said they would support a resolution
switching the process up. Councilman John Clauson said he could go
As for Crittenden’s criticism of the process, the council sat in
shock as he bad-mouthed the city up one side and down the other,
“I’ve been treated like crap by your city attorney for six
months,” Crittenden said.
Mayor Lary Coppola challenged Crittenden’s “rudeness.” “He’s
acting like a spoiled child,” said the mayor.
Shortly afterward, Coppola banged his gavel and cut short
Crittenden’s testimony. “That’s over. We’re done,” Coppola said
When Crittenden continued his tirade, Coppola got up and walked
out of the hearing. (The mayor does not rule on an appeal, only the
council, so his absence did not delay proceedings.) He later said
he felt he had to excuse himself in order not to say something
inappropriate to Crittenden.
Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, later in the hearing, advised
Crittenden that he would present a more convincing argument “if you
would spend your time talking about the particular questions that
are pertinent to this whole case as opposed to talking about our
counselors spending a lot of money and time … Can you do that?”
“If my anger has spilled over on you, I apologize,” said
Crittenden, who remained angry with Jacoby, Forbes and the process
If nothing else, I guess, the change in procedure would spare
the council similar tongue-lashings in the future.