Step off the curb with sewer plan
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:47 PM
"Zoning is nothing more than a matter of political will. Within the legal give-and-take of land use regulation, long-established principles of property rights, and general public sentiment, what today's city council thinks is already too-high density can turn into tomorrow's subdivision. Sometimes, vice versa.To that extent, even without the extension of sewer service to four south-end island neighborhoods - Pleasant Beach, Emerald Heights, Point White and Rockaway Beach - there are no guarantees that future generations won't see more houses there than crowd the shoreline today.Even so, it's become clear that the only real impediment to bringing sewers to those neighborhoods is the question of future zoning - with environmental considerations going curiously to the wayside. The issue took a turn toward the heated at Wednesday's council meeting, as Councilmember Merrill Robison accused some of his colleagues of using procedural delays to stonewall the issue. Others contested with those charges; steps to consider a south-end sewer plan wound up being tabled for at least two weeks.Without intending to, Robison himself may have helped shape an answer to what has become the key question:Will sewers inevitably lead to higher density?Before he served on the council - 1994, to be precise - Robison was one of a half-dozen islanders who filed various challenges to the then-newly adopted Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan. Others included the proponents of the Martin-Patterson rezone, a proposed nine-acre development at Ferncliff and High School Road that was one of the hotter topics around town a decade ago.In a decision that came to be recorded as Robison, et. al., v. City of Bainbridge Island, the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board (which decides such challenges under the state's Growth Management Act) considered whether the presence of utilities in a neighborhood automatically entitled adjacent property owners to upzones for development. The board said no:The city did not violate the Act by declining to desginate the Martin property for the highest density uses. The Act does not require the City to desginate areas of the City with infrastructure adequate to support urban development for the highest intensity uses.In fact, the board the question of future island growth firmly on zoning:Because Bainbridge Island has chosen to be a city, it must remain cognizant of its duty under the Act to plan for compact urban development within its boundaries as it grows.Certainly, decisions can be modified and laws can change, but so can councils. All of which suggests that the mere presence of sewers at the south end of the island means exactly that - some properties will be sewered. So back to the process. Now under consideration is a framework that would allow the council to at least consider the issues in an organized manner, via an amendment to the comprehensive plan. That process includes public hearings and decision points along the way.Robison argues that the council should at least step off the curb, even if it eventually decides that there's too much traffic to get across. The council can still say no to south-end sewers if it so decides.We agree. "