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Park district reassessing past, planning future

Judging by a map, one might conclude that Bainbridge has grown considerably greener over the past 14 years or so.

That’s because the number of green squares used to denote parkland on the map has nearly doubled during that period.

Two things are at the root of the increased greenery, said Park District Senior Planner Perry Barrett.

One is islanders’ strong appetite for open space.

Just as vital was $8 million in open space bond money, an amount nearly matched by grants and donations toward the proliferation of parks. The bond funding is now exhausted.

Now, as the park district enters a new phase of planning, the island’s appetite for open space remains, as well as the need for expansion. Funding may be harder to come by.

“That’s always the No. 1 issue,” Barrett said. “It’s easily our biggest challenge.”

The park district last month kicked off its six-year comprehensive plan update, which is required by the state and allows the district to compete for grants.

The goal of update is to take inventory, assess needs and community desires, and assist and inform the city’s open space study, which is already under way.

Along with taking stock of park properties – even those not owned by the park district – the update will identify environmentally sensitive areas and look at needed repairs at existing facilities.

That work has already begun, and will be accompanied by a public survey launched this week at www.biparks.org. The survey will be followed by later public outreach in a process that will wrap up this summer.

The park district also will host a public meeting at 7 p.m. April 10 at Island Center Hall, and a design charrette on May 15 at City Hall.

The new plan will include both a 20-year vision and a six-year financial plan. Projects not included in the document cannot be pursued.

When finished, the plan will be incorporated into the city’s Comprehensive Plan alongside those of other public agencies.

Along with a big picture – one question being asked involves the public’s concept of leisure on the island – park officials are seeking specifics about standards for trails, athletic fields, open space, community meeting facilities and the senior center.

Integral to all those questions is just how much islanders are willing to pay for parks and services.

The district has a budget of $3.7 million – $200,000 of which is slated for capital work – but has access to relatively few funding mechanisms, compared to other agencies.

Impact fees, for example, which are collected by the school district, aren’t utilized by the park district.

Park officials during their last planning cycle explored the possibility of using impact fees, but no plan to do so was adopted. Given the current financial climate, Barrett said that discussion may resume as part of the new planning effort.

Several needs are already on the park district’s radar, Barrett said.

A renovated senior center, athletic fields, tennis courts and indoor facilities have already been targeted. Along with determining capital needs, planners hope the survey will help them better gauge what people want in the way of activities.

Officials will use the update to assess how recent progress matches past planning.

Accomplishments include the recent opening of the Battle Point Transmitter building, and several park and trail improvements.

Recent park additions include Meigs Farm, off state Route 305, and the Williams Property, on Manzanita Bay. Both were purchased in the past year.

The island now has about 1,600 acres of public parkland, or about 10 percent of the island’s total land area. That doesn’t include places like IslandWood and Bloedel Reserve, which are privately owned but open to the public. Generally, cities aim to have between 10 and 20 percent of land dedicated to parks, Barrett said.

Despite the overall increase in parkland, officials still worry about a dearth of parks in Winslow, which is slated to absorb the bulk of the island’s projected growth.

The Winslow Parks Task Force – composed of citizens and park officials – submitted its final report on the issue in November.

The task force said efforts to purchase land for parks in Winslow should be intensified.

Now it’s time to green our downtown, to make it a lovely inviting place, now and in the future,” the report says. “Failure to acquire parkland to serve the ultimate population of Winslow would be a dramatic failure of government to serve its citizens.”

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