POULSBO — On Wednesday, the Poulsbo City Council unanimously approved a series of updates to the commercial district code for the downtown core. Among the updates are stipulations on building height, design and aesthetics and approved locations for residential and commercial spaces.
One of the major sticking points in council’s deliberation of the proposed code updates was the issue of building height. Early proposals for a 35-foot height limit throughout all of the C-1 zone were met with harsh criticism from a group of local residents calling themselves Citizens for Little Norway. Members of the group spoke up in opposition during the meetings, often citing fears that allowing for taller buildings in certain parts of the downtown area would destroy the character of the city. The outcry was met on Wednesday with further specification by the council on where and how high buildings in the downtown area can be built.
The council settled on a maximum height allowance for buildings along Third Avenue between Moe Street and Hostmark Street to be set at 25 feet (as measured from Third Avenue). The council also agreed that buildings along Front Street could be built as high as 35 feet (as measured from Front Street).
Addressing concerns from Council Member Connie Lord that large buildings might appear along the western side of Front Street, facing the Liberty Bay waterfront, council agreed to cap buildings west of Front Street at 25 feet. Elsewhere throughout the C-1 zone, the height of buildings (not designated by the city as shopfronts) was capped at 35 feet. Council also removed an existing 10-foot bonus opportunity for buildings downtown to be 45 feet tall if they included bottom-floor parking.
The council also agreed that street-level units would be used solely for commercial use, instead of the proposed mixed commercial and residential uses on the ground floor, something Council Member Ed Stern vocally opposed.
“The idea that we can — like a Chinese central command government — order the private sector to do this, that or the other thing … when we’re not putting any skin in the game is a fool’s errand,” Stern said.
Stern’s comments drew a rebuttal from Lord, who said she envisioned a walking loop of shopfronts in the downtown area.
“I know that what you’re talking about is the rehabilitation of the southern end of Third Avenue,” Lord said. “There are lots of different ways to skin a cat. We don’t have to depend on a developer’s project to cover the need that we have to [fix] third avenue.”
Ultimately the council decided that the street level units within the C-1 district would be used for commercial uses only, permitting the opportunity for residential spaces on the second and third floors of buildings.
Also included in the list of council-approved code updates:Updating overall design standards for the downtown district to reinforce and enhance the existing Scandinavian heritage and small-town, waterfront fishing village character.
Reinforcing the “Little Norway” moniker through design details, artwork, community-oriented spaces and accessories.
Consideration of the impact new construction may have on the view of First Lutheran Church.
Mike Brown is a principal with Sound West Group as well as the president of FPH Construction, which plans to build an apartment complex at the site of the old police station in downtown Poulsbo.
“The height, I think, was an important consideration. I think the restriction on the west side of the street was probably the right thing to do,” Brown said. “The main thing … for development was height, and so I think there’s a positive outcome there.”
When asked whether he thought FPH might have any trouble working within the bounds of the new ordinances, Brown said, “It may slow it down; it won’t stop it. Users will come. They just have to be more specialized, so it may take longer to find those types of users.
“Given the fact that we have to do a level of commercial, I think we’ll find a way to do that. That’s what we do,” Brown added. “From the Sound West perspective, we are committed to keeping Poulsbo, Poulsbo. Our hearts are aligned with the rest of the community in that regard. We don’t want to change it in any significant way. We just want to up the game a little bit.”
Lynn Myrvang, one of the Citizens for Little Norway, said she was pleased with the result but was still concerned with FPH’s extensive development in the area.
—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org