Harbor Square ready for its close-up

When the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission evaluates a project that will have a significant impact on Bainbridge’s future, one of the elements it will have to weigh is Bainbridge’s past.

The Harbor Square project, a mixed-use development planned for the 4.3-acre parcel immediately north of the ferry terminal, will displace the historic Cave House, and preservationist Gerald Elfendahl thinks there must be a better alternative.

“We need to incorporate these historic buildings into the fabric of our community,” Elfendahl said. “That house is one of the few direct links we have to the Hall Brothers shipyard.”

The Harbor Square project, which the commission will take up at a special time of 6 p.m. Thursday, is a mixed-use project that calls for 180 residential units and 22,000-plus square feet of retail space in eight buildings three and four stories high.

The buildings would be clustered around a one-acre plaza facing Winslow Way. Parking would all be underground.

To make way for the project – one of the largest ever on Bainbridge Island – the Cave House will have to go. But it may not have to go far, according to the project’s proponents.

“We advertised for the house, and have given it to a neighbor, who wants to move it across the street,” said architect Bill Isley, who designed the project with partner Sean Parker.

The house would already have been moved, Isley said, except for the fact the the chimney and a recently constructed addition to the house are too unstable to be transported. They are being removed, he said, and the remainder of the house will then be taken to its new home.

While Elfendahl is not particularly happy with that resolution, saying that historical structures lose much of their significance when taken “out of context” to a different location, he is impressed with the efforts being made to save the old trees that fronted the Cave House on Ferncliff Ave.

“It’s pretty amazing, the length they’re going to to save those trees,” he said. An underground parking garage is being designed around the trees, so that they will have enough root space to accommodate future growth.

Elfendahl was not the only person objecting to the project. Some neighbors expressed concern about the scale and the impact on the area from additional traffic and loss of views.

Attorneys for the owners of property to the immediate north filed a lengthy letter saying they “strenuously object to the proposed project.” Their principal concern was that the rear of the project would constitute a near-solid 35-40-foot high “wall” against their property.

Isley said that complaint is a question of trying to have it both ways.

“If that property were zoned residential, then yes, we would have had to scale down the height as we approached the property line to create a transition zone,” he said. “But their property is zoned the same as ours, and the high-density zoning added to the value of their property.”

Harbor Square is the third plan for the property. The original plan, called Winslow Landing, came from then-23-year-old Jason Lowe, but that project sank under Lowe’s debts and personal legal difficulties.

The project was taken over by Gale Cool, Lowe’s project manager, but he lost control of the property in foreclosure proceedings arising out of loans Lowe had made against the property.

Present owner is Washington Development Company out of Missoula, Mont., which is named for its owner. This is WDC’s first proposed project in the State of Washington.

The city planning staff is recommending approval of the project.

Architect Parker, planning commission chair, will recuse himself from the discussion.

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