This is the second in a series of articles detailing Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu’s analysis of the city’s top achievements in 2017 and his expectations for 2018.
PORT ORCHARD — As the urban footprint of Seattle and King County inexorably grows beyond its historical boundaries east of Puget Sound and begins to spill into Kitsap County, South Kitsap and Port Orchard residents are feeling the after-effects by dealing with a clogged transportation network and rapidly escalating home prices.
Contemplating how to mitigate these challenges is enough to keep Kitsap County government officials up well past their bedtimes. With public funding sources offering little or no help to improve area roadways, mayors — such as Rob Putaansuu in Port Orchard — and city councils around the county are sniffing out creative funding sources that have become necessary to build road improvements.
A relevant example — the $20.7 million Tremont Street widening project in Port Orchard — got off the ground only after the City of Port Orchard was able to secure money from multiple government sources: $8 million from the city’s transportation impact fees; $3 million from the federal government to design the project, acquire right-of-way property and pay for an environment review; $2 million from the state Legislature; $1.7 million from Kitsap County through the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and $6 million in bonding from the city.
When the Tremont project is completed in spring 2019, Port Orchard finally will have its long-awaited four-lane arterial — equipped to handle more commuter capacity — connecting Highway 16 to Tremont into the city.
But the Tremont project pales in comparison to the city’s untamed, growing transportation gorilla known in planning circles as the Bethel Road/Sedgwick Road Corridor Development Plan. The transportation project on Bethel from Mile Hill Drive to 1,000 feet south of Sedgwick Road has been estimated to cost $24.75 million to complete, as reported in the city’s comprehensive plan issued in June 2016.
Sedgwick Road, also at capacity, is due for reconstruction from SR 16 to Bethel, costing $3.06 million, and Sedgwick Road West, from SR 16 to Sidney Avenue, estimated to cost $4.624 million.
Putaansuu said there’s one certainty when evaluating the two transportation improvement projects: “We aren’t going to be able to pay for Bethel and Sedgwick with local dollars. It will take state and federal money, as well. We need to be strategic in going after those dollars.”
For now, Putaansuu and other city officials, as well as city consulting firm SCJ Alliance, have been listening to feedback from residents at civic open houses over the past year, most recently Oct. 23 at City Hall.
“These open houses have been about finding out what residents want the community to become,” he said. “Some of the ideas that have been presented are not realistic, but we need to listen.”
Putaansuu said the city will continue its close working relationship with Kitsap County since both entities will likely need to work in concert on a future Sedgwick Road reconstruction — a road also known as State Route 160, a state highway.
“Having been a council member and now mayor, I think I have a pretty good outlook on what a good working relationship is,” the mayor said. “I work very hard at that.”
The Port Orchard City Council watched a work-study session presentation Jan. 16 by Elisabeth Wooton of SCJ and Nick Bond, city community development director, on a corridor study for Bethel Road and Sedgwick Road that the city hopes to consolidate into a unified plan for both transportation corridors.
According to the city, the study scope includes Bethel from Mile Hill Drive to the city boundary, and Sedgwick from Bethel to SR 16, as well as the surrounding side-street network. SCJ began work on the study in August and expects to complete it in June.
The mayor believes it will be necessary to complete the transportation improvement work in a series of smaller projects, each most likely priced in the $5 million to $7 million range.
Revitalizing downtown commercial development continues to be a major goal of city government, Putaansuu said, and the City Council’s code ordinance revisions should help that initiative gain momentum. He said the mixed-use development pilot project also could spur some new activity downtown, including on city property at 640 Bay St.
Putaansuu’s goal is to see mixed-use — residential and commercial — downtown that, in turn, would create a demand for other businesses, such as a grocery store or other retail space. He said the city will be adding two pocket parks downtown in the next few years, which will enhance the area’s liveability to make it a more attractive nesting place for millennials.
One priority the mayor hopes to see is some movement by major downtown property owner Mansour Samadpour, who is sitting on some buildings that are either vacant or downtrodden in appearance — or both.
“If we can create some activity and demand there, then we can approach Mansour to work with us,” Putaansuu said. “Or if not, other developers could come in and buy it from him.”
The mayor said while a downtown redevelopment plan is needed, “it’d be a waste of money if we don’t see some movement from the property owner.”
A bright spot for 2018 is the opening of Josephine’s Mercantile in the former location of the Port Orchard Pavilion on Bay Street. It also is to include a small eatery inside called Pinch Cafe.
“With Sam (Josephine’s owner Samantha Smith) moving into the new space, that’s a huge victory for downtown, especially with a cafe inside,” Putaansuu said.
“I continue to advocate for future business opportunities downtown.”
What the mayor doesn’t see happening soon, if ever, is the arrival of so-called box “superstores” to Port Orchard.
“I think with the way retail is changing, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a big box store to open here,” he said.
To gain a better perspective on what residential, retail and commercial development might work in Port Orchard, Putaansuu and a contingent of city officials and staff members visited several communities in King County. The field trip caravan stopped by for a visit to the Mill Creek Town Center, just north of Bothell, and Burien Town Square.
The Burien mixed-use development was of particular interest to the visitors. It is a vision of what could be possible if demand and dollars were available in Port Orchard. Burien Town Square opened in 2009 as a 10-acre, $193 million residential/retail center with a seven-story building housing a public library, 124 condos and, on the ground level, 20,000 square feet of retail space. The location also includes one acre of parking, an art-filled open plaza and space for later development, perhaps up to 300 more condos and 50,000 square feet of additional retail space.
There have been substantial bumps along the way for the project, however. Los Angeles-based developer Urban Partners ran into the Great Recession national tidal wave, which slowed condo sales until a market recovery a few years ago.
The Burien project and others they visited on the field trip is the stuff dreams are made of, at least for Port Orchard officials, and Putaansuu was impressed with what he saw.
“We visited communities that had quality development, but there was something in our (building development) code that would prevent it from happening here,” he said.
But the potential remains. “We have opportunities for mixed-use development also at Bethel, where it transitions to Sedgwick,” the mayor said.
Putaansuu said with the creation of a number of new parks in the coming years, including parks in McCormick Woods and along the waterfront, it’s time for the city to look into creating a full-time parks department.
“Right now, we have one guy primarily dedicated to our parks (within Public Works) and we have summer help,” he said. “We’re good at building things, but we need to do a better job of maintaining our parks. With McCormick Woods Park and Tremont coming up, we can’t have it become a weed farm.”
The mayor said the city’s public works department needs to focus on “filling potholes and repairing sewer lines instead of mowing lawns.”
“I commend our public works staff, which has improved the curb appeal of our city,” he said, gesturing to the tidy sidewalks outside his City Hall office.
Acknowledging he has received a number of complaints about the condition of the city’s parks, the mayor said that will change in 2018.
“Going forward, we need some of that attention paid to our parks.”
There are other priorities this year, Putaansuu said. Well No. 13, he said, “is “extremely important as a water source for the city. We’ll spend a half-million dollars to purchase water from the City of Bremerton this year. That’s not a good place to be in. We have water rights and an approved plan for the well, and a loan from the state that’s been approved.”
But because of the Legislature’s stalled capital budget bill in Olympia, the city has been unable to access funds to date, putting the project on hold.
Putaansuu expects the City Council to reauthorize the current sewer project and begin work on Sewer Station 1 at McCormick Woods with $2.5 million in construction funding.
The mayor said the city’s coffers are being aided by an improved economy, but, alas, where the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak: “I’d like to do more, but the (city) staff is at their limit. They really can’t take on any more work. (Regardless,) they’re doing a great job.”
In the next biennial budget, Putaansuu said that City Hall’s maintenance needs will be addressed. He said the 18-year-old building has a lengthy punch list of tasks to accomplish, including repainting, replacing failing windows and repairing exterior siding.
The heady list of city projects and goals hasn’t worn down the mayor.
“I love what I do,” Putaansuu said. “My craziest days are when I’m not booked end-to-end in meetings. It’s exciting.
“I feel like I’m making a difference. I try to walk as much as I can and be visible. I think I’ve got a pretty blessed life right now.”