Survey shows confusion about land-use

A survey released by the Washington Association of Realtors on Oct. 4 indicates that Kitsap County residents have not yet reached general agreement about the central issues involved in growth management.

A survey released by the Washington Association of Realtors on Oct. 4 indicates that Kitsap County residents have not yet reached general agreement about the central issues involved in growth management.

We could see this split of opinion already in the discussions surrounding the “mixed-use” developments in Manchester and the “overlay” rules for Bay Street in Port Orchard, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that countywide opinion is divided.

In addition to the differences of opinion, attempts to resolve growth management questions must deal with the fact that few people list issues related to it as their first or second topics of interest.

In the list of topics from which survey respondents were asked to choose, two were the first or second choice of more people: “improving public education” (29 percent) and “holding the line on taxes” (24 percent).

Only about one-fifth of respondents chose the topics related to growth management – traffic congestion, affordable housing, managing growth in one’s own area and protecting the rights of property owners — as their first or second priority.

As it is with many things, the general interest of the public in growth management is not as intense as the focus of those who have a special interest in what government does to manage growth.

We each have our own priorities, and they change from time to time. Sometimes the change occurs because a new development is proposed in our own area, and we discover our own special interest in the rules that apply to it.

The survey report isn’t structured in a way which would show whether people were taking contradictory or consistent positions as they answered each question, but one series of questions indicates that most people hope their own neighborhoods do not change.

When asked whether they favor building more homes in their own neighborhoods, 72 percent supported it – if it didn’t cause “overcrowding of local streets and roads.”

Similarly 76 percent supported building more homes in their own neighborhoods if “parks and other open spaces” were preserved.

If the “character of the neighborhood” would be preserved, then 73 percent supported building more homes in their own neighborhoods.

It seems that three-fourths of the respondents were in favor of building more homes in existing urban and suburban areas – but only if there would be no significant change in traffic, ambience, and open spaces where they now live.

Can anyone explain how that would be done? Greater population density produces more traffic congestion and changes the character of the neighborhood – especially if open spaces are not where the new homes are built.

It’s too bad the respondents weren’t asked whether they supported paying more taxes to build more roads and streets to make it possible to increase population density without greater traffic congestion. Having to make such a choice might have indicated what they were thinking.

Considering the survey’s margin of error, the places respondents would concentrate the building of new homes were almost evenly split — existing cities (29 percent), existing suburbs (24 percent), on fringes of suburbs (22 percent) and rural areas (16 percent).

Maybe the respondents were being consistent when they said they support building new homes in their own neighborhoods if traffic, neighborhood character, and open spaces were essentially unchanged. When asked where most new growth ought to be focused, they may have pointed to areas where they do not now live.

How else to explain why so many would put the new homes just beyond or well beyond existing cities and suburbs?

Rather than being in opposition to all growth (as asserted by people who refer to “no-growthers”), maybe the principal reason for resisting one proposed development or another is a desire to keep things pretty much the way they are in one’s own neighborhood.

But if that is what motivates most Kitsap residents, how can our desires be met under the rules of the Growth Management Act?

One thing missing from the survey questions was any mention of multi-story apartment or condominium buildings, which would be obvious ways to concentrate growth in existing cities and suburbs.

It might have been interesting to see whether anyone would favor their construction in his own neighborhood. If the flap over height limits for such buildings in Bremerton and Port Orchard is any indication, few would like them.

No doubt the debate will continue until there is a majority view of how things ought to be done.

Large percentages of the survey respondents seemed to believe there is a way to manage growth and attain what they want – economic growth, jobs closer to home, less traffic congestion, preservation of open spaces, and affordable housing.

It’s not as though people have no faith in growth management, but it is clear that we have not yet agreed on the needed compromises.

Some of us have not even accepted that we cannot have our cake and eat it, too.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.