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Affordable housing divides Fort Ward neighborhood

"The former parade ground at Fort Ward has survived two world wars, three developers and four decades of benign neglect.There’s a chance, however, that by month’s end it may not survive the latest builder’s bulldozer blade.Neighbors who back a plan to convert the five-acre site into a park surrounded by partially-subsidized duplex housing face an Oct. 31 deadline to see their dreams start down the road to reality. That’s when island developer Ray Stevenson, who got a purchase option on the property in an August auction, must reach a deal with representatives of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority on the 10-unit duplex-and-park plan drawn up by urban designer Bill Isley.Under the plan developed by Isley, one of the architects of the Fort Ward Action Plan, the duplexes would be designed according to the neighborhood’s historic character, built on the southeast portion of the property and sold as individual units. Each would contain market-rate units of 1,600 square feet and subsidized units of 800 square feet.Next to them, nearly two acres of the property would be set aside for a park and a community center.If the deal falls through, Stevenson is free to either develop the property to its full, unusually dense 22-lot capacity – or sell the lots individually for piecemeal development, say members of the Fort Ward Neighborhood Association.The price tag for the property, perched between Parkview Drive and Evergreen Avenue off Fort Ward Hill Road: $650,000.It’s a steep figure, but Housing Authority officials say the price is not the hurdle.“I think we are close to an agreement,” said Roger Wade, the authority’s deputy executive director. “(Stevenson) is really interested in having a quality project, and we really are excited about the project.”The hangup, Wade said, is with the area’s outmoded sewer and water systems, which will add significantly to the project’s price. If a suitable figure can be settled upon, however, the Housing Authority anticipates wrapping the site’s cost with its Weaver Creek housing project into a single bond issue, which could be supplemented in small part by state affordable-housing grant money.Proponents say the parade ground is worth it, at any price.“History means a lot to me, and the parade ground means a lot to me,” said Sarah Lee Bourlier, who with her husband owns a restored home that once housed a Navy radio school, across the street from the parade ground. “The bottom line is that we’ve got our last opportunity to save open space in our neighborhood.”While most of her neighbors share Bourlier’s sentiments, several owners of new homes facing Fort Ward Hill Road are concerned about the housing authority plan.They’re not against open space, they say, but they are opposed to new housing in their backyards that isn’t of the market-rate, single-family-home variety.“I worked really hard for my place ... and I don’t want to see my property values go down,” Susan Marley said. “Nobody wants to listen to the ugly reality, but this is an investment to me. ‘Rentals are the kiss of death – everyone says it’ll be impossible to sell your house after they go in.”Opponents have also raised the question of who would be allowed to live in the subsidized portion of the project. Garnie Quitslund, an island affordable housing activist, told neighbors Monday that the such projects are intended for middle-income workers like teachers, law enforcement officers, and others who might not be able to afford to live on the island.“I don’t want to sound elitist,” opponent Chris Raffa said. “But they say Beverly Hills police don’t live in Beverly Hills.”Raffa said such projects make sense only when placed near urban areas, with stores, school and other amenities nearby.The parade ground property has had a checkered history since the Fort Ward military base closed and its holdings were surplused by the federal government in the late 1950s. A developer bought the parade ground property in 1960 and platted it into 36 lots so small they were eventually declared illegal. But the zoning held, and was grandfathered into Bainbridge’s current comprehensive plan, said Bourlier, whose father wrote a book about Fort Ward history.The lots went largely undeveloped, until construction of the nearby sewer plant was completed several years ago. The owner built four of the 10 homes fronting Fort Ward Hill Road – as well as an unapproved cul-de-sac road in the heart of the parade ground – before going bankrupt a year ago.Stevenson, a developer whose interests include Hidden Cove Estates on the island’s north end as well as other Fort Ward and Blakely Harbor-area properties, purchased the property for $650,000. He hasn’t signaled his intentions for the site, despite meetings with association leaders to discuss the Isley plan in recent weeks.Stevenson or another builder would be entitled to fully develop the 22 remaining miniscule lots at market value with a minimum of public oversight, since he would not need the city to grant him a zoning variance, Bourlier and others said.Many residents say that’s not in keeping with the eclectic character of the neighborhood, where duplexes have sat cheek-by-jowl with former military garages and newer single-family homes for decades.“We have a tradition of multiple housing here,” said Mary Victoria Dombrowski, a longtime Fort Ward activist. “Duplexes are completely in character.”Nonetheless, whether or not there’s a deal – which could see significant refinement as it would go through the public permitting process – its opponents promise to “fight for as long as it takes to keep our neighborhood at the same economic level,” Marley said.That is a challenge that many of the neighborhood association’s members are willing to meet. They’ve already obtained National Historic District status for the area. Several have donated some of their own lots in 2-for-1 sales deals with the city toward a “pocket park” on the property’s northern edge, and have altogether raised about $200,000 in land value and cash. And they see the park as a vital link in a long-planned islandwide trail system that stays in spirit with the city-approved Fort Ward plan.“It’s a clash of values,” said Eileen Safford, president of the Fort Ward Neighborhood Association. “My value of my property has nothing to do with money. “The diversity of the neighborhood, to me, is one of its biggest attractions.”#######"

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