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Parking garage study under way

"With a new emphasis on affordable housing, the Town Square project has moved out of limbo and onto track for public discussion.And the city has embraced the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority as a partner in the study.KCCHA representatives told city officials Wednesday afternoon that the authority ought to act as principal developer of the project, which would include a parking structure, retail and commercial space and housing.The authority isn't just in the housing business, it is a major urban redevelopment force, KCCHA consultant and island architect Bill Isley said. It has access to favorable lines of credit. A downtown project could have 50 percent affordable housing, and include a cultural center component.The proposal drew mixed responses from city council members who heard the presentation.My number one issue is affordable housing, council chair Merrill Robison said. This hits my buttons right.Councilman Norm Wooldridge was more cautious.I have concerns about traffic, about the possibility that we may need that land for city hall expansion, and about the proposed scale of the buildings, he said. But that's exactly what they are - concerns. I'm certainly in favor of taking a closer look at this whole thing.The Town Square proposal began to take shape in 1997. It includes a parking structure with up to three levels of underground parking, retail and office space, and some 80 housing units. It would be located in the area between the Farmers' Market plaza and the rear of the businesses on the north side of Winslow Way.Robison not only liked the affordable housing component, but also liked the idea of expanding the island's retail base after the demise of state equalization funds, which had provided money to communities such as Bainbridge with low sales-tax receipts relative to population. Equalization funds came from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, which was wiped out by Initiative 695 and subsequent legislative repeal of the MVET. We have got to get the locals to buy local, and give them a place to buy, Robison said. The sales taxes will help relieve the residential property taxes.Although KCCHA participation could lower the cost of the structure itself, Wooldridge warned of possible hidden costs. He said traffic from the project would largely empty onto Ericksen Avenue. Wooldridge said that before traffic is increased on Ericksen, the plug between Ericksen and Hildebrand Avenue would have to be removed, making one north-south street from High School Road to Winslow Way. And before that can be done, the intersections at both ends would have to be improved.The Ericksen-Winslow intersection needs work, and we're probably going to have to buy some of the land at what used to be Doogal's (restaurant), he said. And we have to make an arrangement at the north end. That probably means a new street farther west, because Hildebrand is too close to Highway 305. So we're looking at buying some expensive property.The upshot of the meeting was that Wooldridge and Norm McLoughlin, executive director of the KCCHA, will draw up a letter agreement to present to the city council at its July 14 meeting. That agreement will outline how the two agencies will proceed to investigate the project. Isley said a more detailed proposal could be ready for full discussion and public involvement by early fall. Nothing is decided at this point except that the project will be looked at in detail, Mayor Dwight Sutton said. We are agreeing to agree to study the process further, in all its ramifications, he said."

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