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Harbor Square moving along

Plans to build a “new neighborhood” on the east end of downtown came closer Thursday night, as the Bainbridge Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the mixed-use Harbor Square project.

The eight-building complex is planned for the 4.3-acre site immediately north of the ferry terminal, between Ferncliff and Cave avenues on the north side of Winslow Way.

“This will be an excellent addition to the downtown area,” said Bill Luria, who was acting as commission chair Thursday. “It meets with the goals and policies of the Winslow area.”

Plans call for 180 residential units and over 22,000 square feet of retail and office space in three- and four-story buildings clustered around a landscaped central courtyard. The project’s “signature” will be a 55-foot tower at the corner of Ferncliff and Winslow Way.

The present design calls for 475 parking spaces, most in an underground garage. There will be two small surface parking lots – not visible from the street – to serve the retail and office tenants.

For what will be the largest single commercial project in Bainbridge history, comment was surprisingly sparse.

The only outright objection to the project came from Beverly McConnell, one of four family members who own the property immediately to the north.

“Our property really takes the impact of this,” she told the commission. “We look down on a wall four stories high.”

Project architect Bill Isley disputed the “wall” description, noting that the buildings step upward, and that the northern facades are modulated to provide visual variety.

Isley said requirements to limit height along Winslow Way and Ferncliff force taller buildings to the rear of the lot.

“In order to make the project economically viable, we need the height,” he said. “If you move the buildings forward, you start losing the pedestrian corridors and the park area.”

While there were some concerns about traffic, project applicants said that the location adjacent to the ferry terminal minimized the impact.

“There is a significant reduction in traffic from having the project here rather than anywhere else on the island because of the proximity to the ferry,” said Harbor Square attorney John Hempelmann.

The commission’s most pointed questions involved the possible loss of the 74-space parking lot presently being operated on the property. While the design calls for replacing those spaces in the underground garage – and adding an additional 74 spaces for non-commuter ferry users – Isley acknowledged that those plans could change.

“Underground parking is very expensive, especially as you go deeper,” he said. “We will need to get farther along into the design before we can get into pricing and make a final determination.”

But, he said, the spaces will be retained on some portion of the property during construction of the early phases of the project.

And if the final design doesn’t include those spaces, rights could be sold to other properties.

“The city has put a limit on the number of ferry parking spaces, but no minimum,” Hempelmann said. “Other property owners are interested in surface parking, so if you let the market work, the spaces will likely not be lost, at least for long.”

The project proponent is Washington Development, a Missoula, Mont., firm named for its owner. This is its first development in the state of Washington.

Planning Commission chair Sean Parker is actively working with Isley on the project through their firm, Bainbridge Architects Collaborative. To avoid a conflict of interest, he left the building during the deliberations, turning the gavel over to Luria.

The project now goes to Planning Director Stephanie Warren and to the city Hearing Examiner for final approvals.

Community Events, April 2014

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