Bremerton mayor responds to county commissioners approval of SVP regulations

Wheeler: “Your neighborhood should not be a primary destination for SVP housing.”

Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler recently spoke up on the decision by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners to approve new zoning regulations for Sexually Violent Predators. In his letter, Wheeler wrote:

“It’s hard to understand why Kitsap County failed to protect families and signed off on Sexually Violent Predator (SVP’s) housing zones in neighborhoods. Bremerton area residents took action and sent comments telling Kitsap County to protect our community.

Instead, Kitsap County Commissioner Gelder, Garrido and Wolfe did the opposite. They approved regulations which allow housing for dangerous and violent sexual predators to move into established Bremerton areas and live along children’s walking routes to school. (Please review maps at bremertonwa.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=535 to see the areas impacted by the County’s action.)

As we’ve said from the beginning, this wasn’t their only option. While SVP housing is required by state law, the county could have legally amended their regulations to provide better safety for individuals and families.

In fact, over the past several months, we made suggestions on ways the county could amend the regulations to include additional considerations such as setbacks from existing homes and for children’s walking routes to schools. Unfortunately, these suggestions were continuously ignored, and they did not accept the city’s proposals.

Frankly, it seems clear timing was an issue in the county’s response. They adopted final regulations on Monday, July 22, and a land use violation decision, which essentially shuts down SVP housing in Poulsbo, was affirmed four days later. With these two decisions, Kitsap County can now drive residences for sexually violent predators from Poulsbo and elsewhere into Bremerton and out of sight of other parts of the county.

The City of Bremerton considers this a very important issue. We’ve already put in place codes that protect our residential neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the areas that now allow SVP housing are not within the city. If they were, the county’s regulations would not apply.

It is disappointing the county commissioners chose to ignore suggestions for improving safety for families. Your neighborhood should not be a primary destination for SVP housing. We hope that county commissioners will consider your concerns about protecting the quality and security of your community in the future.

In response to the letter, Commissioner Rob Gelder said he did not believe Wheeler’s comments were based in fact.

“Unfortunately, I don’t recall the letter being factually based,” Gelder said. “There wasn’t any real substance to it. It was not constructed in a factual way.”

Gelder stated he met with Wheeler and City of Bremerton staff to hear their ideas and suggestions.

“We took all of that into account and then our staff went through a level of analysis for their suggestions and what that would do to the zoning and how that would impact potential siting,” he said.

“The challenge one has in dealing with any state statute, which basically preempts local authority to a certain extent, is that you have to be very mindful of how restrictive you are creating the zoning or the conditions. We did not feel comfortable that it wouldn’t be construed as an outright potential prohibition.”

Gelder said the board plans to continue dialogue with the City of Bremerton for future policy decisions.

“We are always open to truly collaborative conversations and really having a mutual appreciation for perspective. There is definitely an appreciation for those complexities and the desire to have a collaborative relationship on any number of topics.”

—Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at tshuey@soundpublishing.com

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