Islanders pack forum on new shopping center

Advocates for Bainbridge’s proposed shopping center met with islanders Monday to introduce the project, but were greeted with a flurry of concerns and objections.

Discussion for the retail center on the corner of High School Road and Highway 305 came off as a friendly chat between the project’s representatives and the community, but not without dissension. Islanders packed city hall, leaving standing-room-only in the council chambers.

But many of the community’s questions had the same response — developers of the project said it was too soon for them to have all the answers.

Island architect Charlie Wenzlau said the new shopping center would recreate the feel of Winslow Way and University Village in Seattle. It was welcome by some, but not all.

Some said it is not the development they want on their island.

“Most people moved here to have a different concept of living than to be surrounded by this type of stuff,” said islander Richard Mancuso. “You need to know that there is a desire on the island to not be surrounded by University Village or to be Bellevue Junior.”

The comment prompted applause from nearly the entire room.

Others asked why the island needed the shopping center at all.

Brad Goldberg, the director for development for Visconsi Companies, the Ohio-based firm that wants to build the project, did not respond to questions of “Why?” He did say the site was ideal for the center, however.

“This is a very healthy market,” Goldberg said. “The vacancy rate for the island is very low.”

“The last thing we want to do is build a shopping center where we can’t fill it,” he added.

Goldberg said that the company already has received a lot of interest from potential tenants.

Wenzlau added that the property was zoned for commercial development, and it has been eyed for such a purpose ever since the city completed its comprehensive land-use plan 18 years ago.

The central concern for the neighbors was traffic.

Polly’s Lane runs alongside the adjacent Stonecress development and will likely connect to the shopping center.

Stonecress residents were worried that their neighborhood streets will become a short cut for drivers during rush hour.

Another issue was the ProBuild site at the opposite end of the shopping center.

The shopping center’s main street, or Polly’s Lane, will likely provide a route for the large trucks that will need to travel to and from the new businesses.

The developers said they would study potential traffic impacts as the project proceeds.

Until the study is completed, company officials said they could comment very little on traffic impacts.

Wenzlau concluded by offering some simple truths.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush about this; this is a shopping center,” Wenzlau said. “I want to make this a lot different than Safeway, which in my opinion, looks like crap.”

“I want to make something that fits in and feels like a Bainbridge project,” he added.

The developers said the existing roadway leading to the ProBuild facility will be altered to create a pedestrian-friendly “main street.”

There may also be ways to include non-motorized pathways through a portion of the site.

The largest building in the center, a Bartell’s, will have a partial second story for the store’s staff, and a tower at one corner — a signature feature of the drugstore chain.

After the pre-application phase is complete, the project will go to the city’s planning commission, and there will also be a public forum. The city’s hearing examiner will then have to consider the project.

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