New road past park sparks ire

Property owners hope to extend Springridge, build a lane between Gazzam, the Close trail.

To get from Springridge Road to Gazzam Lake today, one must cross Richard Labotz’ property.

And that’s okay with him.

In fact, on a placard outside his home, Labotz has gone so far as to grant park-goers written permission to trespass on his land, provided they’re walking or on horseback.

He’s not so keen, though, on the plans of seven property owners hoping to build a new access road, via Springridge, to their undeveloped parcels west of the lake and overlooking Crystal Springs.

“Their gain is our loss,” said Labotz, gesturing to the nearby trees. “We’d be losing all this tranquility.”

Those planning the road say they aren’t after anyone’s tranquility. They just want something that they say has been slow in coming: access to their land.

Owners had a pre-application meeting with the city last week to discuss their latest plan for road access, details of which still are being sketched out. Instead of entering from Marshall Road, as they’d planned earlier, they hope to access their undeveloped parcels via Springridge.

The extended road would divide the Gazzam Lake preserve and the adjacent Close Property, currently linked by a forest trail.

Though the route has changed, opposition hasn’t.

“I understand their concerns,” said owner Bill Corbin of neighbors and park-goers who would prefer the land be left alone. “But trees were cleared and access was built to make their dwellings. We feel we have the right to develop our land too.”

Owners submitted their old plan in 2004 and had hoped to break ground on the road this year, before a right of way dispute caused them to alter their route.

The source of that dispute – Blue Sky resident Walt McGraw – said he sympathizes with the goal of the owners. Ultimately, though, he thinks an access road would have too drastic an impact on the feel of the park.

“We understand expansion happens,” he said. “Philosophically we’d be okay with our neighborhood expanding. We’re not okay with our neighborhood transforming.”

Which is why negotiations broke down between property owners and the McGraws.

“They weren’t willing to limit the number of houses they were building to 15,” McGraw said.

That, Corbin said, is the maximum number of homes that would be allowable on the parcels.

One year later, residents of Springridge now are looking to thwart the ownership group. Several of them voiced their displeasure with the idea of extending Springridge at the pre-application meeting, at which property owners sought guidance from city planners.

Among other things, neighbors are concerned that the new road – right now a one-lane gravel road that cuts off in the trees at Labotz’ driveway – would be widened to two lanes, in addition to cutting a broad swath through the trees.

Such a plan, they say, would damage Such a plan, they say, would damage the wetlands in the area and bisect the park, cutting off a valuable wildlife corridor. They also say it would spoil the quiet character of the neighborhood and park, a popular destination for hikers.

“It’s not just for the people who live here,” said resident Patricia Bell. “We just want the city to do what makes the most sense, not just what’s cheapest or quickest.”

Corbin said the group hasn’t yet decided whether to move ahead with the project. Should they do so, the plan would first have to clear permitting, at which time the concerns of neighbors would be formally heard.

Several permits – including right-of-way and grading permits – would be required, as would environmental review.

But even if the plan fails, said Planner Josh Machen, a day may come when the argument is moot.

“It’s likely that there will eventually be a connection in both directions,” he said referring to connecting Marshall to Springridge.

Machen said that with respect to city code, he didn’t see any “significant issues or problems” with the idea being discussed by those pushing for the road.

Neighbors wonder why the owners can’t forge access up the hill from Crystal Springs Drive.

“I think that’s the worst alternative,” Machen said. “It’s just not stable. Access from there would be very tough and very expensive.”

Corbin said the owners group has been waiting years for the opportunity to develop their land. In some cases, he said, the property constitutes their nest egg, and many of the lots have change hands several times because of the delay.

“We expected opposition,” Corbin said. “If we do this, we think all the issues will be heard and answered in permitting.”

All but one of the property owners have granted a 300 foot conservation easement to the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, with the other agreeing to 150 foot easement; the group also hired an arborist to help identify which trees should be protected should the project happen.

McGraw, meanwhile, said he worries that better access could lead to even more development in the park and, ultimately, to irreparable damage.

“Skirting a tree is great,” he said. “Avoiding it in the first place is even better. The only things making a buck in the park should be two consenting deer.”

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