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Citizens berate city planning department

The city’s planning department came under blistering attack Thursday night from shoreside property owners, who said permit delays and requirements add tens of thousands of dollars to the costs of relatively simple projects.

The consistent theme: Information given was inconsistent, and requirements were imposed arbitrarily.

“The concept of flexibility has been turned upside down,” said Gary Tripp. “It should be used to give citizens the freedom to fulfill requirements in different ways, but instead, it’s used to give the city the ability to impose endless conditions.”

The forum was a Bainbridge Planning Commission meeting on the city’s Shoreline Management Master Program. Commissioners had asked for citizen testimony on how the planning department interprets and applies current regulations.

It marked an effort to understand how policies that have sparked criticism from waterfront owners – including requirements of native vegetation, such as view-limiting trees – differ from what is already on the city books.

The speakers who filled the council chambers were not a happy bunch.

Barry Peters of Sunset Place told “a story about three rocks,” which had fallen out of a bulkhead that protected his high-bank property. Despite recommendations from geotechnical experts that the bulkhead needed to be repaired immediately, Peters said, the permitting process took 11 months for work that ultimately required only an hour to perform.

Colette Llewellyn, another north-end waterfront owner, said she wanted to install a bulkhead to prevent further slides caused by discharge from a city culvert.

Llewellyn said city planners told her that she would have to find another piece of bulkheaded property and remove 400 feet of bulkhead there as mitigation, a condition she said was impossible to meet.

She and her husband have hired attorneys; total costs have exceeded $125,000.

“We may not be able to retire because we are using all the money we have saved to try to preserve our property,” she said.

Tripp, who heads a group called Bainbridge Concerned Citizens, took issue with planning director Stephanie Warren’s assertion that her department has not actually used “guidelines” requiring shoreline replanting.

Tripp produced a recent hearing examiner decision granting an after-the-fact permit for beachfront stairs on Sunrise Drive, in which the department required planting “in accordance with” the guidelines, including the planting of 50 trees.

Warren was out of the office Friday, and unavailable for comment.

Bainbridge Island City Council chair Michael Pollock, who attended the Thursday meeting, said Friday that the stories he heard raised questions about the planning department’s internal processes.

“There are two sides to every story and I would be interested in hearing the other side,” he said. “But it suggests there may be problems in terms of uneven application of regulations.”

Pollock was not convinced, though, that the people who showed up to protest the shoreline regulations represented a broad segment of the island’s population.

The commission will hold three more workshops on the issues.

A Nov. 7 workshop will deal with non-conforming uses, a Nov. 14 workshop will take up proposals for native vegetation zones and a Dec. 12 session will deal with docks, piers and bulkheads.

The commission rejected Tripp’s call to scrap proposed policies and appoint a new committee to devise a new plan.

“We had a committee that took five months to come up with these proposals,” Planning Commission vice chair Bill Luria said, “and it couldn’t come to an agreement on the controversial issues.

“If we start again, we’ll take another five months, and we still won’t have agreement.”

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