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Sprawl study misses mark on island

"Not so fast, Bremertonians.“Bainbridge Island doesn’t stack up to Bremerton,” crowed the lead sentence of a front-page story in a Bremerton newspaper’s Thursday edition.The news story, about a “Sprawl Report Card” released this week by 1,000 Friends of Washington, a Seattle-based land-use watchdog organization, trumpeted the fact that Bremerton ranked fourth and Bainbridge Island 29th in a study of 33 Puget Sound municipalities’ approaches to growth-management strategies.Problem is, both study and story failed to acknowledge the anomalous nature of Bainbridge as an all-island city, unique among its regional neighbors as a municipal entity with a comparatively tiny urban center.And the study’s author, Tracy Burrows, admits it.“I would definitely agree that, if you only looked at Winslow, Bainbridge Island would have done much, much better in the rankings,” said Burrows, who actually worked as a consultant on the land-use element of the island’s comprehensive plan in 1993 and 1994.“The score is not really reflective of the policies in residence (there),” she said.In no way, Burrows said, should Bainbridge be seen as one of the region’s worst cities.“That’s definitely not true,” she said. “We recognized that, and we debated leaving Bainbridge off the list altogether. But we decided it was too much an area of interest for people.”Bainbridge Mayor Dwight Sutton agreed.“If you set the right criteria, you could make Timbuktu come up first,” he said.The 26-page study looks at growth trends around the Puget Sound region, and evaluates 33 cities in terms of density, housing lot size, home prices, a “jobs/housing balance,” number of parks, and other criteria. Its purpose is to demonstrate that urban sprawl is neither desirable nor affordable for the region, according to the report.The study’s criticism of Bainbridge Island’s population distribution, in which the island got “zero” scores out of five possible points for its proliferation of 2.5-acre minimum lot sizes outside of Winslow, and average density of less than three people per acre, were off the mark, Sutton said.Overall, Bainbridge received just 2.5 points out of a possible 25 in the density portion of the study.“I guess it says that Bainbridge Island is a lousy place to live,” Sutton said with a chuckle. “So, good – don’t send any more people our way, so we can catch our breath.”Some critics of the city’s land-use policies, however, see the report as vindication.“This is finally a little bit of validation for those of us have been screaming against de-ruralization,” islander Andrejs Zommers said.The report could lead to a serious consequences to the high-profile perception, however erroneous, of Bainbridge as a city that doesn’t deal effectively with density, one city planner said.She calls it “the law of unintended consequences,” and it could work something like this: Should an islander appeal part of the city’s comprehensive plan for any reason, the state Growth Management Hearings Board could use the 1000 Friends findings as a basis for revisiting the entire plan.The worst-case scenario could be what happened recently in Woodinville, in which an appeal on one issue of that city’s plan led the board to separately impose its uniform urban-area standard of four dwelling units per acre there. Such a standard here, especially outside Winslow, would be disastrous for the quasi-rural landscape outside of Winslow, city officials said.No part of Bainbridge’s plan is under active appeal with the state, but city officials are still waiting for an “all clear” signal from the hearings board on recently revised Ferry Terminal District Policies.Bainbridge also earned low marks in the study’s jobs and housing ranking – for which it received just just 13.3 points overall out of a possible 25 – for median home price (above $200,000). It was also dinged for another somewhat misleading figure, jobs per capita.The island got above-average ratings in the study’s other two categories of transportation and environment. By contrast, Bremerton received an equal score in transportation and all three of the island’s fellow Kitsap municipalities scored far worse in environmental quality.Bainbridge’s maximum parking ratios, which cap a developer’s ability to pave over property, was singled out for praise, as was its parkland density (39.8 acres per 1,000 people) and overall environmental rating (fifth among the the 33 cities). “I’m glad (the study) came out and started people thinking,” Sutton said. “I don’t feel at all defensive about it, however. It’s just an accident of what we are and where we are.”"

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