Council Considers Modified Building Height Proposal

Meeting fatigue: As last night’s city council meeting crawled to a close, Mayor Kim Abel was having some trouble corralling council members for follow-up meetings on the downtown plan. There was one schedule conflict after another. This after public testimony and council members’ comment on how the process of drafting and approving the plan has been prolonged for months. At one point, Abel sunk down in her chair in apparent exasperation, so that all that could be seen above the council table was the top of her head and a furrowed brow — a little comic relief for all.

OK, here’s the real story:
The Port Orchard City Council appears to be leaning away from a controversial provision in its proposed downtown plan that would allow buildings up to 55 feet in the town’s commercial core.
On recommendation from Councilman Rick Wyatt, they also are considering adding elements of the city’s existing view ordinance to the plan, an idea that met with approval from some citizens who testified at a final public hearing on the topic Tuesday.
The council has scheduled two meetings over the next month to consider the large volume of public testimony given over the past year on the downtown plan, with the possibility of a vote May 28.

Consummation of the plan can’t come soon enough for some property owners, who say their plans for development have been in limbo, as controversy over the height provision and other concerns have prolonged the council’s deliberations.
“We have been discussing the revitalization of the downtown corridor for the last 20 years,” said Rudy Swansen, owner of Rings & Things jewelers. “We’re not money grubbers; we’re neighbors. We won’t build something ugly and leave with our pockets full of money. Bay Street is dying.”
Swansen, who plans to develop the Bay Street building he owns into a three story retail/residential complex, implored the council to “make the hard decisions” to promote economically feasible development. He asked residents who have protested the height provision on the basis it threatens their views to “leave emotion behind” and allow the plan to move forward.
Many at the meeting noted the dire state of the downtown core, where some vacant properties sport brown paper over their windows. Planner Richard Swartz of Amajin Architecture said one of the developers he represents has had to release options on two of four downtown properties because of the delay on the plan.
Cathy Reed of Southworth recently moved to South Kitsap from Kent where, she said, a “seedy little city” became a thriving destination thanks to local planning efforts. She urged the council to move quickly and decisively.
“What I see of Port Orchard now, if you don’t do something soon, it’s going to take a long time to dig yourself out from this,” Reed said.
Council members asked business owners and residents if they could live with current height restrictions, which allow a maximum structure height of 48 feet with a conditional use permit and other restrictions required by the view protection ordinance.
Property owner Deb Townsend said she would support a 48-foot maximum height as long as the requirements were not overly restrictive, especially with regard to preserving view corridors.
“Our hands can’t be tied so tightly to keep one person happy,” said Townsend. “It’s got to be give and take, win-win.”
A number of those who testified gave kudos to Wyatt’s view ordinance proposal. City attorney Greg Jacoby noted that the ordinance had been taken out of a previous proposal, in part, because of its confusing and “ambiguous” language.
Councilwoman Carolyn Powers noted that, with the plan still under discussion, the final version of the view ordinance is yet to be determined. She also cautioned residents not to assume that provisions for preserving view corridors would amount to total protection of their views.

What’s Next: The Port Orchard City Council will discuss its downtown plan proposal at 6:30 p.m. April 30 and 1 p.m. May 15 at City Hall, 216 Prospect St., Port Orchard;

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