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State joins fray over apartment/hotel complex

A south elevation showing the apartments on the left, hotel on the right, courtyard in the middle. - COURTESY GRAPHIC
A south elevation showing the apartments on the left, hotel on the right, courtyard in the middle.
— image credit: COURTESY GRAPHIC

An apartment/hotel complex on High School Road would pour too much traffic into an already congested area, say neighbors and environmental activists appealing city approval of the project.

The state of Washington agrees, saying the project should die unless developers pay for substantial improvements to Highway 305. But it’s unclear whether the state has either the persuasive power or the legal authority to make the city changes its decision.

“We’re engaged in delicate negotiations with the city about it,” said state Department of Transportation official Larry Anderson.

The immediate concern is a proposal from Base Capital of Bellevue to build a 60-unit apartment and 51-unit “extended stay hotel” on High School Road, between American Marine Bank and the M&M Market and Texaco station.

The city approved the project site plan in December, following a favorable environmental ruling two months earlier.

Those appealing the decisions – the Murden Cove Preservation Association, the East Central Bainbridge Island Community Association, and residents of Virginia Villa, west of the site – fault the city’s evaluation of the development’s traffic impacts.

“Several projects in the pipeline would affect traffic on High School Road, making it worse than it is now by the time this project gets around to being built,” said Vince Mattson, one of the appellants. “But the city only considered the traffic impact from this particular project.”

Appellants want to see the developers prepare a detailed environmental impact study.

City hearing examiner Robin Baker was scheduled to weigh their arguments in a proceeding beginning at 10 a.m. Feb. 13 in the council chambers. But attorneys for Base Capital filed motions to throw out some or all of the appeal on technical grounds, and the appellants asked for a continuance to respond. Baker had not ruled on that request at press time.

Base Capital did not respond to press requests for comment. At a prehearing conference this week, representatives did say they would call technical experts as witnesses to show the city had adequately considered the project’s impacts.

Traffic flow

To mitigate traffic problems, the city would allow eastbound vehicles in the center lane of High School Road to go straight or turn left onto the highway.

The city also plans to “phase” the stoplight so westbound traffic is frozen while eastbound traffic moves, and vice versa.

Base Capital has agreed to pay for those changes, which involve re-striping and re-signing the intersection. But state transportation officials say that plan doesn’t go far enough. In a Nov. 14 letter to the city, Anderson said three mitigation measures are needed:

l The northbound side of the highway needs to be widened to two lanes for another 400-plus feet, to give the two lanes turning onto the highway more time to merge;

l The left-turn lane on the northbound side of the highway at High School Road should be extended for another 50 feet, and;

l There should be two left-turn-only lanes on High School Road, with the right-hand lane for thru-traffic or right turns.

WSDOT wants those improvements paid for by the developer.

City engineer Jeff Jensen said he only recently became aware of the state’s demands.

“My concern is with the prospect of eastbound thru-traffic and right-turn traffic sharing a lane,” he said. “I think that could create backups.”

Jensen said the cost of the state’s suggested changes might be relatively modest.

“Surprisingly, extending the two-lane area of the highway is fairly easy to do,” he said. “There is ample shoulder available, so all it would take is perhaps a little paving and some re-striping.”

Besides traffic concerns, appellants also say the four-story project would be out of scale with surrounding buildings; that off-street parking is inadequate; that wetlands to the north would be affected; and that the city failed to consider how the dirt that must be excavated – 30,000 cubic yards – would be transported offsite and disposed of.

“By my calculations, if you dispose of it 2 feet deep, it would cover 10 acres,” Mattson said. “Anyone in the area of the dump site would be very concerned, but they have not identified where that site will be.”

Mattson said that the only acceptable mitigation is to reduce the size of the project. O’Neil agrees, as do most of the complex’s residents, who have signed petitions opposing the project.

“It would change the quality of life here tremendously,” she said. “There will be a playground that will be noisy, and just the building process itself will be difficult.”

The complex’s elderly residents are concerned that a pathway alongside the property will make the apartments too accessible. They also fear that an “extended-stay” hotel could eventually become a halfway house for prison parolees. And they worry about the extra traffic on High School Road, which they frequently cross.

O’Neil said the concern is over changes from the original plan. “When this was first proposed, it was going to be something like Winslow Green, with places for people to go without crossing the street, and people here were very excited about that,” she said. “But that’s all changed, and there won’t be anything for the people here. I think some of the concern about the construction is because people are disappointed about what they will be getting.”

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