Under fire, council extends moratorium

Saying there is no alternative, the Bainbridge City Council Wednesday extended a moratorium on subdivision applications for another four months, a time frame the planning department said would be the minimum necessary to put a new ordinance into place.

The move came despite the pleas of everyone who testified at the public hearing on the extension.

“I can’t arrive at any conclusion but that you’re trying to get open space under another name,” Kathy Blossom said.

Wooldridge raised the possibility of simply deleting the requirement for open space in the present ordinance, relying on limitation on lot coverage.

Council members Bill Knobloch and Deborah Vann both challenged that position, pointing to the high value the community places on open-space preservation.

“I cannot vote for any proposal that does not require a set-aside of open space,” Knobloch said.

The planning staff has been directed to prepare a new ordinance that complies with the Camas decision, as well as with the state Growth Management Act, which references open space, and with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which supports open-space set-asides.

There was no indication of what the new ordinance might contain.

The planning staff said the four-month time-frame is necessary because the city must submit the ordinance to the state Office of Community Development for review, which requires 60 days.

“It’s unfortunate it has to take so long,” said council member Lois Curtis. “But it’s complicated. I was tempted to take out the reference to open space, but grouping together the unbuilt-on land is desirable if we can find a way to do it.”

“State law says you can impose moratoriums in emergencies, not while the city is doing its normal legislative job,” said Gary Tripp of Bainbridge Concerned Citizens.

The council imposed a moratorium last July after the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the city of Camas could not require a developer to set aside 30 percent of land in a subdivision as open space.

Bainbridge Island requires open space on a sliding scale, from 40 percent in higher-density development to as much as 80 percent in large-lot subdivisions.

Debbie Vancil, the only council member to vote against the extension, blamed the time involved on the city planning staff.

“I’m frustrated that this has taken so long,” Vancil said. “The land-use committee has been working hard on this, and the time frame proposed is simply unacceptable.”

Councilman Norm Wooldridge countered that the delay was caused primarily by a false start on the part of Vancil’s committee, of which he is not a member.

“You spent months, and hired a consultant, to try to figure out how to get around the Camas decision,” he said. “When that failed, you came up with a wall of trees. It is our fault, and I absolutely will vote against a six-month extension.”

The city first took the position that existing ordinance could be defended by better justifying its open-space requirements, which Camas failed to do.

But after hiring a consultant – who proposed reducing the requirement to 35 percent – the land-use committee decided to scrap that approach, opting to impose a perimeter buffer and retention of some trees.

That alternative continued to draw criticism.

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