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Manitou shoreline parking lot plan upsets neighbors

Construction next year would invite trespassers, some say.

A proposed parking area on city-owned open space has irked Manitou Beach residents, who’ve petitioned to block the work.

Residents who once supported the city’s purchase of the lot for restoration purposes are now concerned over the misuse of nearby private beaches and the potential damage to sensitive areas.

“I don’t think that the city has or will properly instruct the people about the beach,” said Roger Miller, who lives five houses down from the proposed parking lot. “Most of the public does not understand that the (adjacent) beach is privately owned.”

The city has budgeted funds for parking lot construction next year, although there is no fixed date to begin the work.

The petition of some 70 neighbors says that the impact of a public parking area on Manitou Beach Drive is “wholly inappropriate” and would “impose adverse and unintended consequences on living conditions” for neighborhood residents.

The land at the center of debate is a 1.4 acre waterfront property that borders a salt marsh and potential salmon habitat, which offers 200 feet of publicly owned beachfront, bounded by private beachfront at each end.

It is also the unofficial start/end point of a cross-island trail that leads from Murden Cove, through the Grand Forest to the west side of the island.

The City Council approved purchase of the property in March 2003 for a price of $350,000 with the intention of restoring the nearby salt marsh.

It was one of the more controversial open space purchases. Connie Waddington, who sits on the Open Space Commission, said the project had warning flags from the start.

“From day one, the idea of what would happen to the land was controversial,” Waddington said. “There was an extensive planning process, the city spent lots of money for consultants. But, there were a lot of issues, especially if neighbors were going to approve of the project.”

Ironically, city purchase of the land came after heavy lobbying by Manitou Beach residents.

“Neighbors approached us and petitioned us vigorously to buy this land,” Waddington said. “We felt we could do something with restoration, that this was an opportunity to restore a historical salt water marsh.”

The OSC produced a list of nine reasons the city should purchase the property, and two related directly to area residents. They included the “strong stewardship component being offered by the neighborhood” and the “reasonable expectation that members of the neighborhood may contribute additional beachfront footage and financial support.”

The OSC also recommended the inclusion of amenities for bikers and hikers.

And that is where public support fell off. A 2003 report to the City Council acknowledged that residents’ support “was significantly diminished when commissioners pointed out the desire for parking and picnic tables.”

“We recommended the parking area for several reasons,” Waddington said. “The most important reason being there should be parking for bikers and hikers, if it is going to be a place open to the island then it needs to address their needs as well. It will also be the only public beach on that side of the island and if you are going to have shore access you need to provide parking.”

The use of parcel as an open public area is the crux of the issue for Manitou residents who see the city as shifting priorities from restoration to recreation.

“It’s a rare and unique place that has functioned as a quasi-public area for generations,” said Miller, an 18-year resident of Manitou Beach who has worked on neighborhood matters such as speed limits and the failing shoulder near Falk Road.

“If we substantially increase traffic, there is a potential for misunderstanding. Right now there are no barriers or fences marking lots, people still move freely along the beach, but there are concerns…”

Miller said that although incidents on the beach are rare, there is worry about increased misuse around July 4 and health risks should people gather toxic shellfish in the area.

“The residents are pretty wary of public access, and they’ve been vocal that they don’t want parking down there,” said city associate planner Peter Best. “We haven’t had that conversation yet, so they are preemptively trying to voice their opinion about parking but we haven’t even gone through permitting.”

Best said the city is currently undecided on what to do with the land ever since restoration efforts stalled.

Last year, the mayor convened a Land Stewardship Committee, bringing together the Park District, city planners, the council and the Bainbridge Island Land Trust to discuss city-owned properties.

One suggestion regarding the Manitou property was to sell off the land, since it wasn’t being developed as per its original intent of restoration, Waddington said. Best believes the project is still possible.

“The marsh restoration project is currently on hold, but we want to revisit it. The preliminary design showed that we would need to build a dyke to restore the wetlands, which could potentially flood private properties in the area,” Best said.

“The money has been budgeted, but we’re so early in this project that we haven’t set timelines or even know which permits are necessary,” he said. “We are hoping to get started next year, but it’s really on the to-do list.”

Best said that the city would also work with residents and assuage concerns prior to any project at the Manitou parcel.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the neighborhood so there is no doubt that we will be talking with them, they don’t need to worry about that,” Best said. “It’s not like this is going to show up overnight.”

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