A plethora of concerned community members packed the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night in Port Orchard. The topic of concern for many in the audience appeared to be an interim ordinance related to sexually violent predators (SVP’s) being housed near local neighborhoods.
Many of the community members who spoke at the meeting stated their opposition to locating less restrictive alternative (LRA) living arrangements in residential settings, saying they were blindsided and had no input to where Level III sexually violent predators should reside. Residences operating under the “Group Residential Facilities – Secured High-Risk” classification, house one or more civilly committed SVP’s, according to the Kitsap County Department of Community Development.
A civilly committed individual has completed a criminal sentence, but once completed, they must enter a program for treatment and supervision in a secure facility operated by the state.
Superior Court judges can order the use of a community-based living facility to carry out these programs in an LRA. An LRA still requires court-ordered supervision and treatment. Federal and state court decisions require cities and counties to allow these secured community-based living facilities.
Prior to this ordinance, no local regulations for were in place for where these types of facilities could be located, according to KCDCD.
One community member at the meeting alluded to potential decreased home values that could result if an LRA were to begin operating nearby. Another suggested putting the LRAs in suburban areas with more security. A business owner in Bremerton said she is thinking of moving her business because it is too close to SVP residences.
“This is like putting honey out for bears,” one community member said.
Other public comments included the idea of completely closing down these “halfway houses” and building a sanatorium for SVP’s. The participant even suggested having the board of commissioners live next to LRAs should the final ordinance be denied.
Representatives for the City of Bremerton were also in attendance and reiterated Mayor Greg Wheeler’s written statement from last week, stating Bremerton was being disproportionately impacted over any other city in the county.
In his letter last week, Wheeler said Bremerton “strongly opposes the current proposal, and I am urging the county to create regulations that keep violent sex offenders away from our neighborhoods and schools,” Wheeler said in a statement last week. “I hope that you will join me in sharing your concerns that Kitsap County should not allow housing for high-risk sexually violent offenders in Bremerton neighborhoods.
“These locations will greatly impact Bremerton in a higher proportion than any other community in Kitsap,” he said.
The board of commissioners responded by stating they are preparing a letter in response to Wheeler’s statements.
“We’re getting our (zoning) maps fine tuned for presentation,” Wheeler said in a phone interview after the meeting. “Right now the buffer zones are so small that it’s easy to site one of these residences within walking paths. The only reason this is happening is because they have not looked at the maps. Everyday we’re in jeopardy, there’s nothing that’s stopping this right now.”
Members from the organization Washington State for Public Safety, were in attendance at the meeting. The opposition group was formed in late 2018 when information surrounding the siting of an LRA in Poulsbo came to light. Last week, the group filed suit against Westsound Support Services, LLC, the company contracted by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to house four civilly committed sexually violent predators at the Viking Way home. Organizers with WSPS have stated their desire to see LRA’s sited away from residential areas and have also voiced their support of the current interim zoning measures taken by the county — which require LRA’s like the one in Poulsbo to be operated within areas zoned for commercial use.
In a prepared statement, WSPS’ legal liaison, Becky Hoyt said, “Mayor Wheeler and his constituents have valid concerns. I support those concerns. As a mother of young children living close to four sexually violent predators – I can whole heartedly say that I do not want any families to endure this nightmare.”
The Kitsap County Department of Community Development will develop a final code over the next six months for the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners to consider. The public is encouraged to participate throughout the process. The projected timeline to adopt, deny or defer the final ordinance could come between June and August, according to the DCD.
Members of the public may participate in the process by visiting the Kitsap County website to provide a comment or by contacting Liz Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org 0r by calling 360-337-5777.
Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.