Poulsbo extends ordinance restricting LRA development

The Poulsbo city council held a public hearing last Wednesday to extend an ordinance established back in April that prohibits the development of high risk secured facilities, such as the house on Viking Way that is a designated less restrictive alternative (LRA) for convicted sexually violent predators (SVP).

“Our current development regulations do not define these LRA’s or mitigate their land use and life safety impacts,” Poulsbo Planning and Economic Development Director Karla Boughton said. “In order to mitigate these things an interim ordinance was developed, that defined a new land use and established a permit and review process.”

While the Viking Way LRA does not fall within Poulsbo city limits, LRA’s hoping to operate within city limits now require a conditional use permit for light industrial areas. This interim ordinance is good for six months but can be extended following a public hearing, however, the council cannot extend the ordinance indefinitely, they either need to be made permanent or run their alotted course.

In Poulsbo’s case, the city intends to make amendments to its zoning regulations and municipal codes 18.40.030 and 18.90 to permanently restrict the development of these types of facilities to industrial areas. The council will begin that process Nov. 15, with a public release of the amendments to the zoning ordinance, upon which the public is encouraged to submit comments until Nov. 29 after which another public hearing will be held Dec. 10, followed by a second public hearing on Dec. 18, at which point a final decision will be made.

During the Oct. 9 public hearing, several members of the public spoke to the council in support of the extension.

The first to speak was Tricia Benson, the new Executive Director of Washington State for Public Safety (WSPS), a grassroots organization that has actively worked to remove the SVP house on Viking Way.

Benson thanked the city council for the work it has done to change its ordinances and provided a brief history of the organization’s efforts thus far.

“Almost a year has passed since members of our community discovered that there are multiple sexually violent predators living among us. During this time members of the WSPS have dedicated thousands of hours to researching, learning, and working to make our community safer,” Benson said.

Benson qualified that the SVP’s living in the house on Viking Way are convicted Level 3 sex offenders, that have been determined by mental health professionals to posses a personality disorder or abnormality that makes them unamenable to treatment, which means they are highly likely to offend again.

“Because of the nature they present to society, they have been civilly committed and remanded to the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. Civil commitment is a program with an end goal of a conditional release,” Benson explained. “ Upon progression in their treatment, SVP’s may be assigned to a less restrictive alternative or LRA placement.”

Benson noted that the Department of Corrections, along with the Department of Social and Health Services — the groups responsible for overseeing these LRA’s — were negligent in its reporting of the facility on Viking Way by failing to disclose the fact that the facility was located in close proximity to a school bus stop.

Benson also noted that Washington state law does not allow cities and counties to prohibit or restrict these types of facilities from their communities and believes that they should be allowed to do so.

“Local governments can and should restrict secure facilities from operating and providing residences to SVP’s, through zoning ordinances,” Benson said. “These ordinances prohibit these facilities from being located in residential areas and require that these facilities only be placed in commercial or industrial type areas.”

Benson then reported on the legal battle between WSPS, Kitsap County and Westsound Support Services, the DSHS contractor operating the LRA.

Recently, WSS filed an appeal process in Pierce County Superior Court, to appeal a land use violation notice which was upheld by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner.

WSPS filed an injunction against the property owners, Tim and Lisa Calnan, to cease and desist all operations at the Viking Way facility, for which a hearing will be held on Nov. 18.

Benson then urged the council to vote in favor of the extension of the ordinance.

“It is critical to keep SVP’s out of residential areas,” Benson said.

Benson closed her comments by sharing a little known fact about LRA’s in Washington State.

“There are two types of LRA placements. The first is to a Secure Comunity Transition Community, a state-run facility with over 20 detailed requirements for security and staff ratios and training as mandated by state law. Washington State has two of these facilities, one in Seattle and one on McNeil Island,” Benson said. “ The second option is to any other court-ordered placement, which only has one requirement, sufficient security measures to protect the community. Under these placements, there may not be security or staff onsite or the required chaperones for community outings.”

The next speaker was Rick Eckert a member of the North Kitsap School District board.

“As the previous speaker mentioned there is a school bus stop across the street from that house. Due to the regulations we are under as a district, we can’t move that bus stop, there are no sidewalks in that area and that is the safest place for the bus to stop,” Eckert said. “It’s just a bad situation all the way around.”

Eckert also advocated for moving the facility to a light industrial area, which he claims will make kids safer all around.

Another member of the WSPS, Troy Barber, assured the council that Poulsbo is not the only community in Washington trying to deal with this issue.

“Through what the state has been doing, by reducing the population at McNeil Island, a lot of other communities across the state are dealing with the same issue,” Barber said. “The decisions that you all make on this can serve as a model for those other communities to follow.”

The city council voted unanimously to extend the interim ordinance.