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Neighbors oppose Cave Avenue subdivision proposal

If the initial public meeting involving the first multi-family subdivision ever proposed on Bainbridge Island is an indicator, a bumpy road may lie ahead for the Cave Avenue application filed by John and Alice Tawresey.

The Tawreseys are seeking city approval of a residential development on Cave Avenue, located between the dead-end road and State Route 305 to the west, and Winslow Way East and the Winslow Ravine to the north. The R-8 zoned project consists of eight lots and 20 multi-family units, with each lot containing between two and four units.

Currently, about 20 single-family residents live along Cave Avenue or just off of it in cul-de-sacs; a five-unit condominium building is located at the northern end of the road, nearest Winslow Way.

During a public hearing held last Friday by city Hearing Examiner Margaret Klockars, city staff said there had been considerable comment from the community about the city’s approval of at least three elements of the development.

That included: allowing the buffer between SR-305 and the development to be reduced from 75 feet to 25 feet; reducing the buffer between the Winslow Ravine and the project from 80 to 25 feet; and accepting the applicant’s traffic study.

The study concluded that the new development would not cause “significant adverse impacts to the area’s roadway system or intersections” during the afternoon/evening peak hours.

The traffic report, produced by a third party, said the development would only generate seven trips during the PM peak hour, which puts it under the city’s impact maximum of 10 or more PM peak hours.

Therefore, “it is not expected to have significant adverse impacts to the area’s roadway system or intersections during the PM peak hour... and the project’s access road and internal roadways will meet the city’s required standards.”

Several members of the Cave Neighborhood Community Council spoke against the city’s approval of the plan during the hearing, including Neil Johannsen, who focused on traffic.

Johannsen said he was familiar with traffic studies as an administrator with state park systems in California and Alaska.

“I’ve never seen a traffic study as poorly done as this one,” he said. “The worst part is what has been excluded, which makes the report grossly inadequate and it needs to be redone. It doesn’t even mention that at the north end of a dead-end street there is a preschool and a day-care, both with 20 kids or so attending on weekdays.”

He said the road, which has no sidewalks except at the most southern end of it, serves as the main pedestrian arterial throughout the day. He said it is active with vehicles and buses coming and going, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

He also criticized the city for accepting an existing trail (expanded by the Tawreseys) that skirts the western end of the development as an acceptable option for pedestrians and bicyclists who would normally use Cave Avenue.

“I love that trail and use it all the time,” Johannsen said, “but that’s me. It’s unlit and very muddy in the winter, so at night and during inclement weather it’s not used very much.”

He also said the report ignored the Winslow Way-Cave Avenue intersection, which is often a bottleneck during the ferry peak hours.

“In the five years I’ve lived here that intersection continues to get worse and is almost becoming dysfunctional during commute times,” he said. “Not examining that intersection, again, makes the report ridiculous. That oversight requires that this should go back to the planning department. If not, then there is no justification for this plan.”

Melanie Keenan, an island resident and a geohydrologist, said the city’s variance reducing the setback to 25 feet could threaten the ravine, “which is one of the most prominent drainages on the island. There are buffer requirements in the code to protect it and other critical areas, and the reduction could change the current conditions on such a deep (80 feet) ravine. This project requires more consideration concerning this buffer.”

The neighborhood was also represented by attorney David Bricklin, an island resident who practices environmental law in Seattle. Because of the “inadequacies” of the traffic study and analysis of the buffer reduction near the ravine, Bricklin argued that the matter should be remanded back to the planning staff “or simply denied.”

Klockars said she was unsure whether she had the right to remand it or if it was the City Council’s responsibility, saying that the city’s code appeared to be unclear about it.

John Tawresey said that he could have built an apartment house on the property, “but being sensitive to the neighborhood we didn’t think that was the right way to go. So we decided to to take the multi-family approach rather than build one large apartment house.”

With an open space exception allowing 25 units on the property, Tawresey said that they decided on only 20, “because we are trying to be sensitive to the neighborhood that we once lived in.”

Tawresey said both the traffic study and the ravine analysis proved that there would be a minimal impact on the area.

“A 25-foot buffer has been done all along the ravine in the Winslow core,” he said. “Actually the top of the bank is 10 feet away from our property line. Then you have the 25-foot buffer and a 15-foot building setback, so that would be 50 feet from the ravine, which is more than the standard 25 feet.”

Klockars said she would have a decision in 20 working days, which would be at the end of October or early November.

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