In what could best be described as anti-climactic fashion, Mayor Kathryn Quade and the Poulsbo City Council closed the latest round of public hearings on the city’s proposed Critical Areas Ordinance Wednesday night.
City officials were bombarded with file cabinet sized salvos of scientific data espousing the necessity of stream buffers, large and small. They also received more than a few earfuls from citizens in and out of the city’s Urban Growth Area about how much restriction should be placed on property owners’ rights to do with their property as they see fit.
Even with a Critical Areas Working Group led by the most unlikely of all diplomats in Councilman Dale Rudolph, no one on either side was totally satisfied with the outcome. A compromise stance was floated by those in the middle ground of the group, but sadly that was torpedoed by people on both ends of the issue.
The Johnson Creek Association argued fervently that 300-foot buffers are needed to protect the creek from further degradation at the hands of developers, who want to build houses while destroying the home of the salmon, fox, coyote and black bear. The city doesn’t need the creek corridor to meet its population allocation under the Growth Management Act, they contend.
On the other side sit at least three property owners including Brad Watts, John Johnson and Planning Commissioner Linda Berry-Maraist. Of the three Berry-Maraist has spoken the loudest for 75-foot buffers along the creek instead of the 150-foot offered by Rudolph as a compromise between the two extremes. The UGA means growth should occur there in order to preserve the rest of the county’s rural areas, they have said.
Both sides have presented scientific reports supporting their claims, but soon the council will have the final say.
Then there’s the whole issue of Poulsbo Creek. Is it a glorified drainage ditch that exists by mere happenstance and coincidence or is it something more natural like a fish-bearing stream that was destroyed by man’s carelessness?
Former Mayor Donna Jean Bruce told the council that she remembers a time when trout ran through her yard via the creek and that she enjoyed seeing nature’s handiwork in such a remarkable fashion. Its demise she blamed on an inattentive fuel delivery driver who spilled gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel into the creek and killed all of the trout.
Yet one of her neighbors, Brad Allen, told the council that he has never seen a single fish dead or alive in that very creek. In 23 years of living in Old Town, Allen said he would have loved to have seen fish in the ditch that runs through his yard, but to this day he never has.
Kitsap Homebuilders Association executive director Art Castle told the council as it begins its deliberations on the new CAO to remember a little something about the organization of the state’s Growth Management Act.
“It doesn’t set priorities,” Castle told the council Wednesday night. “That’s up to you.”
The state merely provides the basic issues each city must address in ensuring that growth occurs in an organized, responsible fashion, and for each city the tenants of the GMA are applied differently.
Like with the city hall issue, every council member must know that no matter what decision they make, there will be those who will question and criticize them for it. Some will say they sold out to developers; others will undoubtedly say they hugged one too many trees. There’s no way to win politically, so doing so would be fruitless and irresponsible.
The challenge for the council and city staff now is to find a way to balance protecting the environment with providing affordable housing and opportunties for development. Going too far to either extreme will result in costly consequences, so it’s up to each council member to study the facts and base their decisions upon them. Emotion shouldn’t sway any votes nor should personal friendships or business opportunities.
There is only one chance to get it right and failure is not an option. Here’s wishing the council and Mayor Quade the wisdom to make the right decision and common sense to do what’s best for the entire city.