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Homebuilders sue city again

The latest lawsuit against the city purports to be about open space. But both sides, particularly the builders, say it’s really about a lack of communication.

“I think this is their way of getting our attention,” said Bainbridge City Councilman Norm Wooldridge. “They don’t seem to feel we pay attention otherwise.”

Art Castle, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, which filed the lawsuit against the city last week, agreed that the builders do indeed feel ignored.

“Has the city ever sat down with the development community to try to work this out?” he asked. “That’s never been offered.”

Some dialog will begin next week, Wooldridge said, when he and other council members who might be interested will have a preliminary, informal meeting with a group of builders led by Dick Allen.

The suit, filed in Kitsap County Superior Court, challenges the city’s open-space requirements for subdivisions, and a recently imposed moratorium on such applications. The suit also challenges a decision by the city administration that some subdivision applications will be processed only if the applicant promises not to sue over open-space requirements.

The action follows the Washington Supreme Court decision that the city of Camas’ open-space requirements constituted an illegal taxation on development.

The lawsuit contends that Bainbridge’s requirements that a certain percentage of land in each subdivision be declared open space is also a prohibited tax.

The suit says that because the city has a number of other tools to regulate development – such as density limitations, critical-area ordinances, and the ability to impose case-by-case environmental mitigation measures – the moratorium is not needed.

And it says that requiring a waiver of the right to sue is an impermissible infringement on that right.

Both the city and the developers agree that what is at issue is not the amount of open space – lot-coverage rules still apply – but how it is arranged, and who approves it.

“We want to get contiguous pieces of space without structures, so it looks more like open space,” Wooldridge said.

“I’m hopeful that we can come up with something that may not be perfect, but that everyone can live with.”

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