Planning a fine farewell

When Marti Stave started with the city of Bainbridge Island ten years ago, everything was brand new.

She was a new graduate from the University of Washington with a major in urban geography. The city itself was new, as Winslow had just annexed the rest of the island. And the statewide Growth Management Act was a new mandate that required comprehensive planning.

“We suddenly realized there was this huge chore in front of us to develop a comprehensive plan,” Stave said. “It was a tremendous undertaking for a small city and a new city.”

Stave concluded a ten-year career with the city yesterday, retiring to spend time working on her quilting. As the city’s senior long-range planner, she was instrumental in much of the work that went into the island’s comprehensive plan.

When Stave started as an intern in October of 1991, she was just what the city needed. Her academic specialty had been growth management. And although Stave had a new diploma, she was no kid, having spent years in the medical and real estate businesses before going back to school.

Her first task was to produce an inventory of the undeveloped land on Bainbridge in order to estimate how many people could be accommodated at then-current zoning.

“There was no room at the old city hall,” she said, “so they put me in a storage area in Rolling Bay, near where the court is. I was in a big room with a rickety old table, but we got volunteers, fed them coffee and cookies and hand-colored almost 10,000 parcels on a map of the island.”

Stave was then put to work on a number of committees dealing with various aspects of the comprehensive plan, where she got heavily involved in the public-participation process. Then she took on the whole problem of housing, and wrote most of the housing element in the plan.

“That may be one of the things I’m most proud of,” she said. “We had a provision for accessory dwelling units early on as part of housing affordability. And the provision where developers provide affordable housing is way out in front of other communities.”

After the comprehensive plan was adopted, Stave said, she spent the better part of a year defending it before the state Growth Management Hearings Board. She tried to show that the plan was consistent with the legislative plan of concentrating growth in urban areas while discouraging it in rural areas.

“The problem is that, as a city, we are by definition an urban area,” she said. “But in some ways, we are trying to act like a county, with high density in one area, Winslow, and low density elsewhere.”

Stave’s land-use inventory was critical to board approval of Bainbridge’s basic concept of channeling half the growth into Winslow, because the inventory showed that the island could handle its expected growth even with relatively low-density zoning outside of the Winslow core.

Her involvement with planning has kept Stave in the maelstrom of Bainbridge’s arguments about growth. She notes the discrepancy between the perception of out-of-control growth and the reality – that the growth rate has not changed a great deal over the past 30 years – and thinks there is an explanation.

“We’ve always had growth and subdivisions here, but now, we’re seeing a different kind of growth – mega-houses of 4,000 square feet or more. I think the availability of money is different,” she said.

Stave is concerned that the efforts to abate growth will actually produce a less desirable community.

“We’re missing the opportunity to plan growth wisely by trying so hard to prevent it,” she said.

She cites changes made to the Winslow master plan that do things like increase the parking requirement, which lessens density.

“If you want half the growth to be in Winslow, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and accept actual urban densities downtown.”

Stave will devote her time now to quilting, will try to take a more prominent role in the city’s arts community, and will train for another marathon run. She also wants to swing a hammer with Habitat for Humanity.

She says that what she will most miss is the people, particularly those in long-range planning.

“This is a superior group of people, and we have a great time together,” she said.

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