Pierce County judge knocks down Kitsap County ordinance for sex offender housing

During its Dec. 18 meeting, the Poulsbo City Council approved amendments to its zoning ordinance for high-risk facilities — such as a home on Viking Way which currently houses several civilly-committed, sexually violent predators (SVP’s) — just one day before a Pierce County judge knocked down a ruling by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner, finding the Viking Way facility to be in violation of zoning ordinance.

The Poulsbo City Council passed an ordinance back in April establishing a temporary prohibition on the development of High Risk Secured Facilities and extended the prohibition another six months in October.

The Dec. 18 approval of this ordinance not only would restrict the development of such facilities to light industrial areas, but it will also require developers to obtain a conditional use permit from the city, and would make the restriction on the development of these facilities permanent.

Tricia Benson the executive director for the group Washington State for Public Safety, who has been actively working to remove the house and its occupants from Viking Way, spoke at the meeting, thanking the council for creating this ordinance and informed them of a Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) case going before the Pierce County Superior Court the following day.

Just one day later, a Pierce County Superior court judge ruled against Kitsap County, overturning a previous ruling by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner.

“The court ruled that the Hearing Examiner decision is overturned because there was no substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Hearing Examiner’s decision under RCW 36.70C.130(1)(c) and because the Hearing Examiner’s decision erroneously applied the law to the facts under RCW 36.70C.130(1)(d). The court also ruled that the Hearing Examiner decision was in violation of the Washington Housing Policy Act. The court is in recess until January, at which point a formal written order will be entered based on the judge’s oral decision given on December 19,” wrote Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Laura Zippel in an email to the Herald.

Separate from the Kitsap County zoning violation, WSPS has also filed a lawsuit to remove the facility of SVP’s from Viking Way as well as a motion for a preliminary injunction to force the removal. The hearing for this motion is scheduled for Jan. 13, in Kitsap County Superior Court.

“The judge made clear that Kitsap County failed to establish a significance in the difference between a facility for developmentally disabled adults versus a facility for sexually violent predators. I believe this distinction is critical, and with the research, WSPS has completed, should have been straightforward for the County to establish,” Benson said in an email to the North Kitsap Herald assessing the judge’s decision. “Let me be clear, some of these SVPs may have a form of developmental disability, but they are capable.”

The judge will have a written decision available to the public regarding this ruling sometime in January.

In the meantime what the ruling means in terms of the recent action taken by the City of Poulsbo and what Kitsap County’s next steps are, remains to be seen.

A spokesperson for Kitsap County said that the Committee for Community Development will meet in January to discuss the next steps.