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Archive for the ‘land use’ Category

Footnote on Coppola planning commission appointment

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The issue of residency was raised Tuesday, as the Port Orchard City Council (minus Rob Puttaansuu and Fred Chang, who were working) discussed outgoing Mayor Lary Coppola’s appointment of his wife Dee Coppola to the city planning commission.

It was up to the council to confirm (or not) the appointment. The planning commission is an advisory board, like the several other boards and committees that weigh in on topics such as parks and development design standards. The planning commission advises on land use, and so could be seen as a relatively powerful body of citizen advisers.

Typically, the council accepts the mayor’s recommendations for all boards and committees without much to-do. But during discussion of Dee Coppola’s appointment, there was a focus on the residency rule that only one of the eight planning commission members can be a nonresident. The council on Dec. 13, already had appointed Robert Baglio, who lives outside city limits.

The Coppolas live in The Rockwell Apartments in downtown Port Orchard, and they own a home in Manchester. At Tuesday’s meeting I, too, was wondering about the residency issue, since Mayor Coppola, in an interview Monday, told me he and Dee plan to move back to Manchester.

The whole thing was also a bit reminiscent of rumors that swirled around Lary Coppola’s official residence during his 2007 bid for mayor.

On Tuesday, Councilman Fred Olin asked, “If someone on the planning commission moves out of the city, and Mr. Baglio is appointed as the non-resident, would that person have to withdraw from the planning commission?”

City attorney Greg Jacoby said city code does not address the issue, which has not come up before. He said there were a couple of possible interpretations. On the one hand, the council could ask to have the appointee removed from the commission. On the other, the appointee could be considered grandfathered in. “I’m not saying that’s the best interpretation,” Jacoby said.

At the request of the council, Jacoby said he would do further research to try to clarify how the code should be interpreted in the event Dee Coppola does move out of the city during her term on the planning commission.

Dee Coppola herself was clear on what would happen. “I’d have to resign,” she said, while allowing for the possibility of being grandfathered in. It would be up to the council to make that call, she implied.

Dee added that she and Lary have no immediate plans to move into the Manchester house, in which the Coppolas have undertaken an extensive remodel. There’s still a lot of work to be done, Dee said. So as for moving, “It’s going to be a while.”


Should Port Orchard Relinquish its Role in Hearing Land Use Appeals?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

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 question.)

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 Superior Court.

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 said.

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 center.

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 appeals.

“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 either way.

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, particularly Jacoby.

“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 angrily.

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 in general.

If nothing else, I guess, the change in procedure would spare the council similar tongue-lashings in the future.


North Kitsap Legacy Partnership: A Year Later

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Brynn Grimley writes:

One year ago Tuesday Olympic Property Group President Jon Rose and County Commissioner Steve Bauer met with me and environmental reporter Chris Dunagan to tell us about the North Kitsap Legacy Partnership.

Since then we’ve covered the different stages of the project, including initial reaction from economic development leaders and the environmental community. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying on top of the latest developments with the project, but because they’ve spanned the last year and been so varied in their makeup, I thought it might help people to see a chronological list of stories to help you remember what’s happened in the last year.

These are stories I used to refresh my memory while writing the Sunday story on the most recent development with the project. As that story states, the tribes are now willing to come to the table to talk with OPG and county officials — a significant turn in events.

One part of the equation I did not include in my story was the idea of creating a fully contained community land use designation that would allow OPG to develop  Port Gamble at a higher density than currently allowed. OPG has not said explicitly that it needs a FCC for the project to go forward, but leaders have said they’d like to see it as an option because there aren’t many “tools left in the toolbox.”

Dunagan recently wrote about FCCs and the countywide planning policies that will be up for discussion Jan. 27 during a hearing of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

Here’s the list of stories I used to write my Sunday story, and additional stories I think are important to the larger NKLP project — including Dunagan’s most recent countywide planning policies story:

I realize there’s a lot here, but it might help give context heading into 2011 as the county and OPG look to work with the tribes to create a plan that tries to address everyone’s concerns.


Gun Club Attorney Received Documents

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Regina Taylor, attorney for Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, received topographical maps she requested from Kitsap County’s Geographic Information System the day after she made the request.

Taylor late last week said she believed her comments at a meeting of the county’s board of commissioners on Sept. 27 lit a fire under to county to comply with her request. But Neil Wachter of the prosecutor’s office, who is handing the county’s case against the gun club for alleged code violations and safety concerns, said information never was withheld from Taylor.

In her comments to the board Monday night, Taylor said she was told by a GIS analyst on Sept. 27 that she would have to go through the prosecutor’s office to get the maps. When I called Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge Tuesday morning for clarification, he said it appeared her request fell under “rules of discovery,” related to litigation. Any time one party in litigation requests information from the opposing party in the suit, the court requires a record of information traded, Hauge said.

Later in the week, Hauge stood by his initial analysis. Based on what I told him, the rules of discovery appeared to apply. But since Wachter is handling the case, Hauge had deferred to him to make the call.

Wachter said he told GIS to “respond to her (Taylor) as they would any other citizen of the county requesting a map.”

There was nothing subversive about how the county responded, he said. “To my knowledge, nothing she has requested has been delayed because of that temporary misunderstanding,” Wachter said.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact the GIS office serves all other county departments, as well as local cities … and the general public. Their job is to make maps, and the bulk of their body of work is available free online to anyone and everyone. Not even a public records request is required. GIS is independent of, yet inter-related to the prosecutor’s office and the department of community development, which is involved in the suit through its code enforcement staff.

Taylor had made an inquiry of GIS during the summer. According to Diane Mark, manger of GIS, Taylor, identifying herself as the the gun club’s attorney, called the office again on Sept. 27, saying she needed certain topographical maps in a hurry (in time for the meeting). The GIS analyst she spoke to contacted DCD to make sure they didn’t already have what she wanted (no point in duplicating efforts), said Mark. DCD, in turn, suggested GIS check with the prosecutor’s office to make sure Taylor’s order didn’t fall under the category of a public records request.

Mark said that also would have been her inclination. “In any situation where there’s any type of litigation, I make sure if any department in the county is involved.”

Wachter’s ruling was, no, not only was what Taylor was asking not subject to the rules of discovery, it did not require a formal public records request. But GIS staff was not so sure, Mark said. The reason was, Taylor asked for topographical maps for properties mentioned in the gun club suit. After some creative thinking, the GIS analyst suggested she simply make a map for Taylor showing land within a radius of the gun club that would encompass those addresses. That’s how Taylor made her request, which was accommodated Tuesday afternoon.

“My concern is that this is being misconstrued as withholding information,” said Mark. “In reality, we bent over backwards to meet her request on very, very short notice.”

Just to review the time frame, Taylor made her initial inquiry about topographical maps this summer. On Sept. 27 (last Monday) she called the GIS office urgently seeking the maps for the meeting that night. Sometime between her inquiry and Tuesday afternoon, GIS contacted DCD, then the prosecutor’s office. Wachter gave GIS the green light, and Taylor’s maps were produced by GIS staff.

So, was Hauge, as Taylor and others have suggested, overstepping his authority? Not in so many terms, according to legal experts from outside Kitsap County. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from interviewing attorneys it’s the meaning of the term equivocal. If I were interviewing doctors, the terminology might be “within normal limits.”

Could Taylor’s request fall under the category of rules of discovery? “It doesn’t sound out of line. It just sounds a little bureaucratic,” said Jan Ainsworth, who teaches criminal law at Seattle University School of Law.

In other words, an attorney would be within his or her rights, when informed of a request such as Taylor’s to say, “Time out, let’s make sure this doesn’t fall under the rules of discovery.”

Then there’s the issue of the interrelationship of county departments. “All of those departments are technically the prosecuting attorney’s clients. That’s why it becomes a little different if it’s litigation,” said Bob Siderius of the Washington Bar Association. “I can see why the prosecuting attorney would want to have records of request made for documents.”

That being said, Siderius added, a simple public records request would seem to suffice.

In any case, be it under rules of discovery, or a public records request or a simple request for data, county officials have consistently supported Taylor’s right to the information she requested. Small detail: rules of discovery allow 30 days for a response. A public records request may be responded to within 5 days, at least to inform the requesting party how long it will take to accommodate the request. The actual document(s) could be weeks out.

But remember, folks, the deputy prosecutor who is handling the case said the information Taylor requested was simple public information, available without a request. And the fact is, she received the maps on Tuesday, pretty quick turn-around for a custom job for a member of the public, Mark said.

“We’ve not done anything to obstruct her from getting the information,” said Hauge. “We’re bending over backwards to accommodate her request.”


County Republicans Condemn Russ Hauge on Rifle Club Suit

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Sandra LaCelle, Kitsap County Republican Party Chairwoman, sent this to us:

On September 13, 2010, at the Executive Board Meeting of the Kitsap County Republican Party, the following resolution was adopted:

Resolved, that the Kitsap County Republican Party hereby condemns the actions of Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hague and his office for the continual harassment and frivolous legal attacks upon the officers and members of the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club.

It is a bold statement for reasons I will provide further down.

Rifle club members were out in force at Monday’s county commissioner meeting addressing County Prosecutor Russ Hauge’s lawsuit against the club. Some of their comments will be included in a story Josh Farley is working on. Their basic points were:

  • The club is all about safety.
  • The county commissioners need to reign in Hauge and the Department of Community Development.
  • They asked why this had to be filed in Pierce County.
  • If the club is closed people will go shoot in the hills.
  • They questioned the qualifications of the prosecutor’s key witness.
  • They think this is a vendetta Russ Hauge is launching against Marcus Carter. (The two have faced off in court before.)

James Sommerhauser, a regular at these meetings and a fixture in the local Democratic party, said he belonged to the club for a couple of years. He thought it was safe, but said if it wasn’t he probably wouldn’t have recognized how. He said if the club didn’t get permits it was required to, then the club would be wrong in that case. He also pointed out that the prosecutor is a separately elected official, so county commissioner control over what the prosecutor does is almost non-existent. Josh Brown, county commissioner, said that the primary interaction between the commissioners and the prosecutor is over the prosecutor’s budget.

That does not necessarily mean the commissioners have to remain silent, but they’re not clear right now what authority they have to do or say anything.

Jim Coutu of Gig Harbor made a point that may speak to why some people who have no dog in the fight would have strong feelings about the suit. “Lawsuits come about because people cannot come to terms any other way,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like something that wanted to get resolved in a proper manner.” Where that matters is that the public knows of no problems between the county and the rifle club. And then there is a pretty big lawsuit.

You may recall there is also friction between the county and the city of Bremerton over the city’s financial participation, or lack of it, in the restructuring of the loan for the Harborside Condominium complex. We’ve been reporting it for months. It may result in a lawsuit, but because we have been reporting the conflict for some time that news won’t come out of the blue like the rifle club suit did.

The Central Kitsap Reporter had a story in May when neighbors of the range wanted the county to take action. It was kind of a “he said, she said” moment.

From a political standpoint, addressed in Farley’s story posted Saturday, there is so much to consider. I think Hauge was absolutely correct when he said the suit “could not have come at a worse time” politically.

In the Aug. 17 primary Hauge won what was a de facto straw poll by 12 percentage points. While that doesn’t officially fall into “landslide” territory, it is a pretty comfortable lead. Now this issue is out there, less than two months from election day. The only way this is a political win for him is if overwhelming evidence comes to light between now and the day ballot are mailed out. Courts do not move that quickly. And people mad at Hauge for taking this action will not wait until election day to mark their ballots.

What if it turns out that Hauge is right? I know many people will not consider that possibility, but I am not at liberty to rush to judgment here. I have not read his filing and even from what I little I have heard I have a lot of questions on both sides. But again, what if it turns out Hauge is right?

Would Republicans then still have cause to claim that this lawsuit is a “frivolous legal attack” and part of the “continual harassment?” Though the party’s statement doesn’t specifically name this most recent suit, in tone it seems pretty clear that the county Republican Party has already judged this case before the process plays out.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
old Time is still a-flying.
And this same flower that smiles today,
tomorrow will be dying.”
- Robert Herrick


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