Plans submitted for Port Gamble’s revival


PORT GAMBLE — Olympic Property Group has taken the first official step toward reviving the historic Hood Canal town of Port Gamble

Plans have been submitted to the county for a 325-acre development, including up to 140 new houses; a waterfront “lodge” and restaurant; stores and offices; and tourism facilities. South of town, plans call for a dairy farm, plant nursery and winery, along with a recreation area. A dock for tourism boats is planned.

“This is a tremendous moment for the future of the town,” said Jon Rose, president of OPG, who expects a long review process before final approval.

The vision is to bring back the New England-style homes that have slowly disappeared since Port Gamble’s heyday in the 1920s, Rose said. Walking trails along the shoreline, through the forest and along pastoral farmland would contribute to the lifestyle of residents and become a unique tourist attraction.

Regrettably, he noted, two slightly different plans are under consideration. The preferred plan includes less development and more open space, but that plan depends on other discussions coming to fruition.

They include negotiations with the Washington Department of Ecology, which is reviewing alternatives for cleaning up contamination in Port Gamble Bay.

The more intensive plan — the one submitted to the county — contains about 50 more homes and less open space, Rose said.

Still, it is fully compliant with zoning in the area. Plans can always be reduced but not intensified, he noted.

“It was important to get this (plan) in,” Rose said. “This is the one thing we have control over, and it is important for us to submit it.”

According to Rose, Olympic Property Group had hoped to submit the plans before the end of last year, but discussions about how to clean up the bay kept pushing back the submittal. It was tough to start and stop the work of hired consultants, he said, and the county has already hired its own consultant to draft an environmental-impact statement. The EIS consultant, EA/Blumen, will be funded with $180,000 from OPG, a subsidiary of Pope Resources.

“They can’t get the EIS rolling until they have a submission,” Rose said, adding that the next step will be a public “scoping meeting” to discuss what should be included in the environmental analysis.

Traffic studies, wetland studies and geological studies have already been completed and will become part of the EIS, he said. Cultural resource studies, including archeological findings, are still to be done.

The goal of restoring the town goes back to 1995, when the Port Gamble mill closed after continued operation for 142 years, Rose said. The project survived the county’s growth-management planning in 1999, when Port Gamble was given its own section in the Kitsap County Zoning Code, called “Rural Historic Town.”

The unique zone allows for historic residential densities, no greater than 2.5 homes per acre overall. Commercial businesses must be consistent with historical uses up until 1990.

More intense zoning was proposed in 2010 in exchange for the public taking ownership of up to 7,000 acres of forestland owned by Pope Resources. But the plan for heightened development was dropped amid fierce opposition from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and local environmental groups.

Tribal Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said the tribe’s technical staffers are reviewing the alternative development plans submitted by Olympic Property Group. Meanwhile, the tribe has joined in discussions about cleaning up Port Gamble Bay.

The cleanup project and the town’s redevelopment used to be separate issues, Sullivan said, but lately they seem to be merging together. The tribe’s primary concern is for the rich fish and shellfish resources of Port Gamble Bay.

The company-owned town cannot survive as things stand now, Rose said. It is costing Pope Resources too much money to operate year after year with little return.

“This is about preserving the future of a place recognized for its national importance,” Rose said. “The only way to save the town is to be able to have people own their own homes.

“We have taken the slow, thoughtful road, fixing up the town, doing the environmental cleanup and giving people lots of time to think about the future,” Rose said. “This will provide a major boost to the economy and tourism in North Kitsap, way beyond the town’s borders.”

More than a million cars cross the Hood Canal bridge every year, Rose said, and Kitsap County should be able to siphon off some of the dollars headed toward the Olympic Peninsula and Victoria, British Columbia.

Rose said he was thrilled with the public reception in June, when the plan was first presented in an open meeting.

“I’ve never been on a project that had more positive feedback when it was first rolled out,” he said. “I think people take pride in Port Gamble and see that we have taken good care of it.”