Subdivision plan finds little support

Clearly weary of a year-long moratorium on the subdivision of island land, local developers and property owners hammered on proposed new rules.

Builder Andy Mueller told the council it was hurting residents’ livelihoods, and to simply pass the subdivision ordinance and be ready to take its chances in court.

“If this is legally defensible, let’s go see,” Mueller said.

His comments set the tone for the evening, in which more a dozen land-use professionals and some land-owners caught up in the moratorium filled the chambers for the first-ever live cablecast of a council meeting.

At issue: new provisions for subdivisions that generally mandate clustering of homes and buffering from neighboring properties and major roads. Clustering requirements would be eased for those who dedicate more land as open space.

The ordinance revisions follow a 2002 Washington Supreme Court decision, in which a 30 percent open-space requirement imposed by the city of Camas on subdivisions was struck down.

But Wednesday, some hearing-goers said the council has used the court decision as an excuse to take an expansive look at subdivisions and tree retention.

Architect and planner Bill Isley said the city should get past the notion of “prescriptive zoning” to “performance zoning,” setting goals that property owners and builders can achieve on their own initiative.

“Not everyone wants to live in a clustered development,” Isley said. “Some people want elbow room.”

Councilwoman Christine Nasser Rolfes said the council was taking the long view. Under present island zoning, 3,000 more homes could be built over the next 10-15 years, and she hoped to preserve “some semblance” of the characteristics current residents value.

Yet some said the council has inadvertently stumbled into a review by state officials of “deliberate underzoning” of island land.

Clustering homes today, they say, could mean more development on unused lands in the future, if the state were to mandate higher densities on the “urban” island under the authority of the Growth Management Act.

Still others asked why, when the Camas decision found that a 30 percent open space requirement was illegal, the draft Bainbridge ordinance still contains a 30 percent requirement.

“I can’t tell whether you’re getting no legal advice, whether you’re getting poor legal advice, or whether you’re getting good legal advice and not following it,” developer Kelly Samson said.

After the meeting, Councilman Michael Pollock bristled at charges that public input has been inadequate. The council has heard from those who don’t want open space requirements, and those who don’t want any more subdivisions; neither, he said, is likely.

“Not everybody’s going to get their way,” Pollock said. “It’s the nature of politics. It’s compromise.”

The draft ordinance was sent back to committee for review. Council members have said they hope to pass something before the moratorium expires at the end of August.

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