"Merchants want process, and progress"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:02 PM
"Orderly process, or hopeless limbo?That depends upon which side of the bureaucracy you find yourself, as evidenced by the recent discussion over a proposed downtown parking garage. Looking back on Saturday's ruminations on this subject, there is reason to pause for a mea culpa - or perhaps a we-a gulpa, as in, we swallow some pride and concede that owing to the lateness of the hour or the earliness of the deadline, we found ourselves long on rhetoric and short on research. To our discredit - as noted elsewhere on this page by esteemed City Councilman Norm Wooldridge - we did in fact miss a May 24 presentation by ubiquitous planner Bill Isley, in which he touted for the council the benefits of an affordable housing component atop the proposed garage/retail alley next to city hall. ...Or perhaps not. While we concede that the project is finally back on the council's radar screen, our sources suggest that it wouldn't be there at all but for a chance meeting between county housing authority officials and the mayor at a recent benefit concert. From that informal conversation came the idea of an affordable housing addition atop the garage, and from that, the presentation by Isley and county housing advocate Roger Waid. Not exactly proactive on the part of the council, given that the garage project was last on the formal agenda some eight months ago, and a public meeting proposed at that time wasn't held.Perhaps that explains why downtown business leaders and other garage advocates remain frustrated by a perceived lack of progress, and fear the project might be squeezed out if the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum moves onto a corner of the property - an issue we still don't believe is resolved. A few phone calls to local merchants reveal that the garage is taken very seriously up and down Main Street, but unfortunately, formal discussion remains factionalized and piecemeal.We suspect one reason the project has languished for so long is that there's a split city council, and no one is anxious to take a vote on it. A parking garage raises all sorts of bugaboos that promise a long and interesting debate. Some will see it as a concession to the primacy of the automobile, an unpopular notion in a generally progressive community that places particular stock in buses, bicycling and other alternative modes of transport. A public/private partnership will raise questions about the city's proper role in someone else's for-profit venture. And any public funding is sure to inspire the inevitable complaint (we've already received one letter) that the rest of the island is subsidizing downtown interests.One council handicapper last week put a vote on the garage at 4-3 against, if it were held today. Interesting.By the time you read this, the project will probably have been formally added to the agenda of the council's operations committee; a meeting to that end is slated for this afternoon at city hall, with representatives of the administration, council and county housing authority set to attend.We're not ready to say the parking garage is a grand idea, and we won't say it's a crummy one. But with or without an affordable housing component on its roof, this discussion is long overdue."