Crunch time for Bainbridge code review

A handful of islanders are urging community members to pay attention as the city moves into the last phase of the land use code update.

The comprehensive process, which has taken a couple years, is at the point where about 400 public comments and reams of paper and ink is ready for City Council review before it is finalized.

Several citizen activists who have been attending meetings of the update process for nearly a year believe its critical that the public now weighs in on it. Several voiced concerns about the future of the document, which essentially protects and controls Bainbridge land.

“I have tracked the code changes word-for-word, side-by-side with the original document,” said Sally Adams, chair of Bainbridge Island Keepers and a board member of the Association of Bainbridge Communities (ABC). “I have spent hundreds of hours reviewing this again and again and showing up at meetings. I’ve seen red flags. The island is going to suffer huge losses that the community doesn’t expect if we don’t pay attention.”

The update, which is meant to eliminate ambiguities, inconsistencies and contradictions in the land use regulations, was created by city staff in conjunction with a council ad hoc committee, a code user’s group, a consultant team and city Planning Commission members. The City Council will review all of the changes and recommendations over the next few months, beginning on Feb. 2 before approving the document in April.

“Given how many people were involved and the complexity of the project and just the sheer volume of material it has gone really, really well,” said Planning Directory Kathy Cook. “We are pretty much on schedule and on budget.”

The update was initiated in 2007 and the overhaul was unveiled in draft form on Feb. 2010. The update was budgeted at $280,000 – $247,000 of which has been spent to date.

The idea was to make the code more user-friendly without modifying any of the policies underlying the code. The update was focused on Title 2 (administrations), Title 17 (subdivisions) and Title 18 (zoning).

Kelly Dickson, project manager, said the scope of the project does not include any policy changes, and any issues outside of the scope have been set aside to be considered through individual ordinances.

“Our intent was not to create new policy, but in some cases the intent of the document was unclear and we did have to make a policy decision,” said Cook.

Cook said areas where policy was changed were left aside for ad hoc committee consultation. Primarily the code changes were organizational and structural, Cook said.

Several community members still advise the community to stay alert.

Adams said her primary concern was the shift of oversight from the planning commission, council and public to the discretion of the planning director. She said there were a number of materials shifted from titles 17 and 18 into Title 2, which gives the planning director more control.

“The greatest amount of land left on the island is the most challenging land topographically,” Adams said. “With this update we are taking those properties and shifting them into a category of review that doesn’t involve the public to the degree it does in the current code.”

Charles Schmid, a member of ABC, was part of the original group who created the zoning documents for the island when it was incorporated in 1992.

“Its important for people to read over and see how well we are going to keep our island environmentally strong and beautiful,” said Schmid. “Look closely to see the strength of the words that will protect our trees. Pay attention to areas that have changed where people can live and work, screening along the highways, buffers, setbacks of houses and the heights of houses. It does take time, but it needs a close look.”

Both Adams, Schmid and islander Debbi Vann spoke highly about the work of the planning department.

Islander Melanie Keenan and farmer Patti Dusbabek both raised their concerns about the agricultural regulations.

Dusbabek has been a farmer on the island for the last 10 years and said she is disappointed that few of her ideas to protect farmers were considered.

“If the code goes through it will harm my business enormously,” said Dusbabek.

Keenan was concerned the island’s character and sustainable development will be hindered and agricultural rights will be limited by the code changes.

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