BREMERTON, Wash. - Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler says interim zoning rules by Kitsap County put the safety of families at risk by allowing housing for court-defined sexually violent predators to open on streets in residential neighborhoods where kids walk to school.
On Wednesday, Bremerton city councilmembers approved more restrictive zoning measures on where such homes could open within the city, and Wheeler said he wants the county to consider doing the same.
In a letter posted online this week, Wheeler said Kitsap County has ignored the city’s calls to amend current county interim zoning regulations and said he feels several Bremerton residential neighborhoods, that border the county, were being unfairly targeted.
"They zoned these areas to allow this,” said Wheeler in an interview with KIRO 7. "Put some buffers in there, that get you away from housing."
These sexually violent predators, who are likely to re-offend, are placed in houses with GPS locator ankle bracelets and employees who work at the homes around the clock, according to Wheeler.
Tricia Benson, a mother, lives near a home just outside of Poulsbo that currently houses several sexually violent predators who had been civilly committed on McNeil Island.
“I am afraid,” said Benson. “I don’t feel adequate safeguards are in place.”
Kitsap County said it had no idea about that home, located near a school bus stop, until worried neighbors spoke up. The county realized it had no local regulations to deal with these types of homes and put in place the interim zoning rules that upset Bremerton.
Benson, who is a part of Washington State for Public Safety, a group that’s fighting to close the home near Poulsbo, said she doesn’t agree with mayor Wheeler’s letter.
"It creates divisiveness and it upsets community members in thinking that the county is actually trying to put sexually violent predators in Bremerton over another area,” said Benson.
Kitsap County said, legally, Bremerton may be pushing them to be too restrictive. The county said the state requires them to allow these homes in the community, with some restrictions like an 880-foot buffer zone from schools, and that proposed sexually violent predator housing would be evaluated to make sure it’s compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.
"I'm anticipating that the county will see and do the right thing,” said Wheeler.
Kitsap County, which is moving to make the interim regulations permanent, said it has not received any applications to place a home with sexually violent predators within one of the approved zones.
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