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Streetscape, skepticism at latest debate

Candidates for the park board join the fray at Tuesday’s City Council debate.

In his opening remarks at Tuesday’s debate, City Council candidate John Waldo reflected on a long-faded controversy: the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Madison Avenue and High School Road.

After much contention, the roundabout went into service on Nov. 6, 2001, the same day incumbent Bill Knobloch – Waldo’s opponent for the Central Ward seat – was elected to his first term on the council.

Six years later, both Knobloch and the roundabout remain fixtures. So too, Waldo said, are “bickering, disagreement and very little progress” at City Hall.

“We can do better than that on Bainbridge Island,” he said.

According to Waldo, betterment would include moving ahead with the $20.6 million Winslow Way Streetscape project, funding for which Knobloch – saying the public should decide – voted against last month.

The Streetscape was one of several issues on which the Central Ward candidates disagreed at Tuesday’s debate, held at City Hall and sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, Senior Center, League of Women Voters and the Review.

“That’s a very poor example,” Knobloch said of the roundabout. “The roundabout didn’t cost $20.6 million – and if you don’t like it, you can take it out with a bulldozer.”

Bulldozers also appeared Tuesday in the South Ward race between Kim Brackett and Curt Winston.

“Send the bulldozers,” Winston said, to the chuckles of many, when asked about whether the city should connect Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane. He said the road would have been connected long ago had it not been for the work of a small opposition group.

The controversy over the connection has lingered on for more than a decade, and resurfaced again last month, after neighbors rebuilt and moved a gazebo on the green strip now separating the two streets. The group was issued a stop work order by the city because they moved the structure into the right of way.

Brackett said the key to the issue is looking at the whole street, in particular the intersections at either end, which planners have said are problematic.

“If you connect (the streets), you’re going to have to look at the feeder traffic,” she said.

Council candidates also discussed growth, affordable housing, tension at City Hall, water resources and plans to build a parking garage in Winslow, among other topics.

The event was the third debate this fall, in preparation for the Nov. 6 general election.

Questions were generated by the sponsors and the audience; each candidate was allowed to ask one question of his or her opponent.

Unopposed candidates Barry Peters and Hilary Franz participated as well.

The debate also featured Lee Cross and Nancy Jacques, who oppose one another in the race for the lone contested seat on the park board.

Resurfacing the fields at Battle Point Park and renovation of the senior center were central to their discussion.

Both candidates agreed that the projects were necessary, but their opinions diverged when it came to artificial turf; Jacques adamantly supports it, while Cross said the risks of the material need to be examined more thoroughly.

The issue of turf also came up between Brackett and Winston. Brackett is among a group of residents concerned about the potential impacts of turf fields on the environment.

When pressed by Winston, Brackett said those concerns still need further study.

In return, Brackett asked Winston about the long-running debate over docks on Blakely Harbor. Winston has been a vocal critic of the city’s dock ordinance, which limits the amount of docks that can be built there.

He said the law is “terribly restrictive” in addition to being unnecessary.

Both Brackett and Winston were skeptical of the Streetscape, and in particular objected to the project’s source of funding – bonds and utility user fees.

“There is a lot of confusion about what exactly this is all about,” Brackett said.

She wondered why the creation of a Local Improvement District hadn’t been more thoroughly explored, and questioned whether the cost of the work has been peer reviewed.

Winston said the Streetscape work goes well beyond a utility project, and that if he were to be elected, he wouldn’t support councilmanic bond funding.

Asked about dysfunction at City Hall, Winston pointed to the last candidate debate, at which all six candidates said they would support saying the Pledge of Allegiance before council meetings.

“This group worked through the flag salute issue in about four minutes and moved on,” he said.

When the topic turned to growth, most brought up the importance of determining the island’s water capacity, which currently is being studied.

Asked whether island growth is inevitable, Waldo said it’s realistic to expect people to move to a desirable place like Bainbridge.

“We grossly overestimate our ability to control (growth),” he said.

Knobloch again disagreed, saying the state Growth Management Act – which directs growth in communities around the state – is not a “dictatorial mandate.”

“We can manage our future,” he said.

None of the candidates showed immediate support for a parking garage, though Waldo said one may be necessary in the long term. Most candidates said they prefer the idea of remote parking for downtown employees and a shuttle service.

All candidates said they support the senior center renovation, which received minimal funding in the mayor’s preliminary 2008 budget.

Opinions differed on affordable housing. Brackett said she supports the idea of Community Land Trusts, which essentially remove the cost of land from home ownership.

Winston said the focus should be on providing affordable rentals – like the endangered Quay Bainbridge Apartments, which soon could be sold to developers – because home ownership isn’t a realistic option for people at the lower end of the income scale.

Like Brackett, Knobloch favors CLT’s; Waldo said the city needs zoning changes that would increase cottage housing and accessory dwelling units.

Knobloch asked Waldo, who was part of a group that studied the financial aspects of Winslow Tomorrow, why the cost of the effort wasn’t considered in greater detail. Waldo said the group spent an “awful lot of time” studying the costs, and that the analysis was readily available.

“Frankly I just don’t think you’ve gotten there yet,” he said.

Waldo asked Knobloch what role he played in the dysfunction in city government.

“I’m trying to figure out where the problems are,” Knobloch said, before listing some of the council’s accomplishments during his term.

Knobloch at several points in the evening stressed accountability, and has in the past repeatedly said that he’s done his part to keep the peace among his colleagues.

“I have to stand on my record,” he said.

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Replay

The candidate debate is being reshown on BITV 12. See

www.bitv.org. for showings.

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