Tag Archives: Kitsap County Department of Community Development

Shoreline task force will help revise regulations

All the pieces are nearly in place for Kitsap County residents and planners to begin examining the ecosystem at the edge of the waters encircling the Kitsap Peninsula.

Beyond beauty, shoreline environments contain vital ecosystems. (Click to enlarge)
Kitsap Sun photo

Oh, yes, lakes and a few streams are part of the picture.

Kitsap County commissioners last night appointed a 20-member citizen task force to take a central role in the planning effort. For the first time in county history, regulations will be based on ecosystem values. See the story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun listing the members.

Similar planning efforts are under way in Kitsap’s cities as well as various communities throughout the Puget Sound region. I wrote a story for the Kitsap Sun Feb. 27 regarding the effort for our cities.

In the past, shoreline regulations were based on existing land uses. Buffers — including the current 100-foot buffer for rural areas — were uniform throughout the entire county. Previous rules never took into consideration the particular types of shoreline or their ecological values. For example, an estuary with a highly productive marsh and a stream running through it was treated exactly the same as a rocky outcropping pounded by waves.
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Shorelines battle starts to stir behind the scenes

<i>Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains from a home on Kitsap County\'s shoreline.</i><br><small>Photo courtesy of Dr. Dale Ireland</small>
Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains from a home on Kitsap County's shoreline.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Dale Ireland

Planning the future of Puget Sound’s shorelines is under way or soon will be under way among most local governments in Puget Sound.

Some counties have completed the work because of early funding by the Legislature (King and Pierce) and some because they pushed ahead on their own (Whatcom). Some counties started early but have faced delays (Snohomish and Jefferson).

Kitsap County planners started early but focused their efforts on an “inventory” of existing conditions along the entire shoreline. That inventory, which includes prospects for habitat restoration, could be a major tool in the update of Kitsap’s Shoreline Master Program.

Do I need to remind anyone how contentious this issue is likely to become in counties with substantial shorelines?

In Kitsap County, both property rights advocates and environmental groups have already announced that they are getting ready for a fight.

Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners came out recently with guns ablazing: “Kitsap County is getting ready to update its shorelines master program,” KAPO President Tim Matthes says in a postcard to shoreline owners. “You will find very little in the news informing property owners of changes.”

That’s an interesting comment, considering that I have already written two stories before the process even starts. I can tell you now that there will be plenty to write about when this issue begins to boil.

The card also states, “County staff wants to treat every inch of shoreline as ‘critical area.’ They want to prohibit bulkheads, ban docks, force you to replace your gardens with ‘native’ plantings and control what kind of trees you plant, trim or remove.”

I’ll let others respond to those specifics if they wish, but clearly this message is designed to lead the charge into battle.

KAPO is not the only side getting ready for a fight, however. Beth Wilson of Kitsap Conservation Voters recently informed the county commissioners rather forcefully during a recent “Meet the Commissioners” forum that shoreline planning could be the most important issue of the year among the local environmental community.

While Kitsap County planners prepare for two years of work on the Shoreline Master Program, cities in Kitsap County are getting ready for updates as well. There was talk at one time of strong collaboration between the county and the cities, but it appears that jurisdictions are starting to drift apart. It remains unclear whether any kind of coordination will take place.

Kitsap County Planning Commission was briefed on the upcoming planning effort a couple of weeks ago (see Kitsap Sun story, May 20). The county commissioners discussed the same information today.

Some of the key ideas include:
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Gravel mining project raises long-term planning issues

I attended a meeting this week of residents concerned about a gravel and rock mining operation west of Kitsap Lake. Many of the folks lived along Northlake Way and Lebers Lane, the two roads that would be most affected by the increased truck traffic coming from the Ueland gravel mine.

In my story in Thursday’s Kitsap Sun, I did not write detailed quotes from those commenting, because I plan to cover the public hearing. As “Sassy” noted in a comment on the story, it was mostly a reminder to submit letters on the project to the county by Monday.

I will have more to say about this issue later, but two things stand out for me beyond the project itself, and they are things the county needs to address.

The first is a realization that Northlake Way, a residential area, is taking massive amounts of traffic. If the roadway is not already beyond it’s design capacity, it will be. (Someone who has analyzed the traffic study may wish to comment here.)

Northlake Way is the only real access to Bremerton from the entire west side of Kitsap County, including Holly, Seabeck, Lake Symington, Lake Tahuyeh and everything in between. I hope the county is looking to the future with plans for dealing with growing traffic, whether or not the gravel-mining operation goes in.

The second issue involves the need for gravel. Mark Mauren, who is involved in the Ueland project, said gravel is running out in Kitsap County. Someone else involved in the construction business commented that materials are often trucked in from Pierce County already.

Although Fred Hill Materials’ pit-to-pier project on Hood Canal in Jefferson County is highly controversial, Jefferson County government at least went through a planning process to identify where gravel resources are located and where mining might be allowed.

As far as I know, Kitsap County has never undertaken a similar planning process, yet the potential for conflicts between resource extraction and residential uses is far greater here. I believe Kitsap’s rural areas are still the most densely populated in the state.

There’s much need for long-term planning in Kitsap County. This year, legacy lots and “rural wooded” incentives are likely to dominate the time of a dwindling number of planners. But there are consequences to haphazard development, and these issues will not go away.

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.