Legacy lots are getting attention from Kitsap County

Thousands of tiny lots platted in rural areas of Kitsap County are like time bombs hidden in the landscape.

This week, the Kitsap County commissioners authorized their planning staff to study a list of options for dealing with tiny rural lots platted before 1937. That’s the year the state’s first platting requirements went into effect. Before that, anybody could create lots anywhere without restriction.

These little lots may seem innocuous at first. Generally too small for a house, owners tend to cluster them together to get enough room for a septic tank and drainfield. More lots are needed if a community water system is not available.

The rural area around Manchester has more of these lots than any other area. Someone once estimated there were 2,400 lots in a 1909 plat called Manchester Heights. Some of them are now in the more urban Manchester area governed by the Manchester Community Plan, but others lie in a “rural” zone where the goal is one home on five acres.

Indianola also has a bunch of these lots, as do other shoreline areas such as Hansville and Southworth. Many lakes also have a conglomeration of these lots.

Indianola: Assessor’s map (top) and all lots (bottom)

Assessor's map
Yellow=single family; orange=mobile home; red=shed or garage; magenta=cabin; green=vacant land
Underlying legal lots
Yellow=single family; orange=mobile home; red=shed or garage; magenta=cabin; green=vacant land

Nobody wants to contemplate what would happen if all these lots were developed. In fact, environmental constraints substantially reduce the potential for development.

But Manchester residents got a wake-up call of what could happen when Woods View — a cluster of 78 homes on 12 acres — was approved. The Kitsap County hearing examiner and the county commissioners were powerless to stop it, even though the commissioners kind of held their nose as they voted.

I first outlined the problem in the Kitsap Sun on Aug. 15, 2006. Since then, the county has imposed two different kinds of building moratoria to block this kind of large-scale cluster development. If not extended, the latest moratorium will run out this summer.

Meanwhile, county planner Katrina Knutson has been studying how other counties are dealing with what have become known as “legacy lots.” Requiring the owners to put two or more lots together is one option, and she will be discussing other options in the coming months.

The secret to high-density development in these areas is realizing that, under current Kitsap County practices, the owner has a vested right to build on every one of these lots. The only restrictions are the overall health and environmental rules, as well as current building codes.

Another secret is that what you see on the ground today does not restrict future use. If you drive through Indianola, for example, it’s hard to imagine that this laid-back community could ever become a high-density project with houses crammed side-by-side.

It might not happen because of topography, but it would be possible for a developer to buy an old mobile home or house built on 10 or 20 of these lots and erect a whole new development. If a septic system were needed, it might take two or three lots for each new house. You might get between six and 20 homes where one stood before.

The Kitsap County commissioners were taken aback this week when they saw the complete plat of Indianola. The top view, to the right, is what you would see if you went to the county’s Web site where the county assessor’s map is displayed. As you can see, property owners have consolidated many of the lots together for tax purposes, but few have given up their legal rights to build on the individual lots.

The bottom map shows all the individual lots, revealing a vast potential for construction if health and environmental rules can be met.

3 thoughts on “Legacy lots are getting attention from Kitsap County

  1. The Growth Management Act was very clear. Identify those areas characterized by urban growth. The DOE folk in Olympia aided by enviro crowd created criteria that excluded most areas outside cities. Those lots just can’t go away unless we change the law to force aggregation. The reality is that there has been enough of them developed to create a need and demand for urban services such as storm water and sewage. Interestingly enough those monitoring Puget Sound’s health complain about these two contributors. Maybe it’s time to rethink those standards.

  2. Chris,
    Thank you once again for the very informative article-I was very glad to see you yesterday reporting on the Work Study topic-Legacy Lots-2 1/2 years later and here we are finally -The County is stepping up (I hope) and addressing this issue that you so thoughtfully brought to the forefront so long ago…thanks Chris,

  3. I’ve heard it argued by developers that this problem wouldn’t exist if enough lots were being created in urban growth areas. That may be the case, but many lots created before 1937 threaten to change the character of neighborhoods and entire regions of the county. These lots do not have the same legal status as those developed in modern times. Still, issues of equity for property owners must be addressed.

    There are many ways of dealing with this problem. Some include lot aggregation, some don’t. I will try to keep everyone up to speed as the ideas are proposed.

    County Commissioner Josh Brown made it clear at yesterday’s meeting that he wants to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of people in each area where these lots are found.

    One of many ideas would be to lock down the status quo. For example, if you have a house on 10 of these little lots, you could either aggregate all of them or show how you plan to develop the rest of your property. This might be a good solution for Indianola, which is largely developed, but it wouldn’t be much help in Manchester, where there are extensive open areas covered by trees.

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