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Driving ranges dispute rages on

"Seventy-five feet.Nothing on Bainbridge Island is that tall, unless it’s a tree or a cellular tower. An amazon of similar scale, however may grace – or perhaps grate – the local landscape: the steel poles and netting for a proposed driving range at the Wing Point Golf and Country Club.That’s a change from the height listed on the club’s application for a conditional-use permit to build the members-and-guests-only practice facility. The 130-foot-wide, 700-foot-long range, with an estimated cost of more than $600,000, would be located on four recently acquired acres just east of the club’s 18-hole golf course.Among other features, the increased height is needed to ensure that errant drives won’t leave the range and rove into the nearby Azalea Avenue neighborhood, a club-hired consultant said recently.Dave Tanner, a California consultant who studied Wing Point’s plan and issued a report earlier this month, gave recommendations designed to debunk the claims of opponents that the range would be a safety threat to surrounding residences.Those suggestions, based on laser tracking and computerized analysis of the area’s topography, include:l Installing an arching tee structure in place of a conventional turf tee area to ensure that balls hit will travel lower on average and toward the range’s center.l Erecting long tee dividers to deflect the range’s most erratic shots.l Ejecting golfers who purposely hit a large number of stray balls, or coaching others who do so unintentionally.The key, however, is the lofty poles and netting. The club’s original plans called for nets ranging in height from 40 to 65 feet. Tanner’s plan, however, calls for 75-foot structures stretching across 350 feet.Wing Point officials say that’s feasible. “It shows the club’s commitment to ensure that when we say the balls won’t be leaving the facility, we’re going to do everything we can to keep them in that area,” said Tom Zahaba, the club’s general manager. “The size and scope of this facility doesn’t even compare with what the Azalea folks are concerned about.”The driving range’s opponents, however, aren’t impressed.“Even with 75-foot nets, we question: how many balls will clear the nets and land on our property?” asked Karla Smith, an of Azalea Avenue resident spearheading the opposition campaign. “We consider any balls landing on our property to be one too many – we have children to think about.”Smith, a club member with her husband Michael, is concerned about how the added height will add to the project’s cost – and the assessment that club members voted upon themselves to pay for it.Wing Point’s 405 members voted in May to assess themselves more than $1,400 each toward the practice range, for a total of $599,000. Tanner’s recommendations shows the poles and netting cutting into the facility’s eastern boundary along the buffer line of a nearby stream. There is some dispute, however, about whether it’s a Class 3 or Class 4 stream – Class 3 is considered viable for spawning salmon – and the size of the buffer could change once a final determination is made.If the stream is judged to be a Class 3 wetland, as a state Fish and Wildlife biologist claimed this summer, the setback for development could be 100 feet, cutting right through the heart of the practice facility. Meanwhile, as the conditional-use permits staggers toward a yet-to-be scheduled public hearing, rhetoric between the two sides has grown more heated than ever.The city’s planning file contains several hundred petitions signed by proponents and opponents, as well as no shortage of impassioned correspondence.Typical is this missive from Wing Point Road residents Gary and Violet Rees: “Their emotional diatribe about injury and property damage that will result from this facility strikes us to be absolute nonsense,” they wrote. "

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