Fast-food eatery restrictions may be eased

It’s not formula fast food we object to so much on Bainbridge Island.

Rather, a city committee believes, it’s the taste, or lack thereof, of the packaging from whence it comes.

And by that, they don’t mean the ubiquitous boxes, cups and styrofoam clamshells. They mean the buildings themselves, the free-standing structures that proliferate along every American highway from Key West to Port Angeles.

And while Bainbridge Island has tried to avoid that “Anywhere USA” look, its controversial fast-food ordinance fails to address the real problem, according to City Councilman Norm Wooldridge.

“A significant number of people on the island say they want fast food, and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Wooldridge said. “Our problem has been the aesthetic consideration, what it looks like.”

After a summer’s worth of meetings, the Design Review Committee that Wooldridge chairs will recommend that the city scrap the fast-food ordinance, and substitute a measure that would regulate appearances, not content.

The proposed measure would allow franchise fast-food outlets in any commercial area. But it would prohibit free-standing buildings, and require that all such businesses be located in buildings that also include “non-formula” outlets.

“What we are opposed to is a whole building that is really a sign – we’re not going to allow that,” Wooldridge said. “We want to avoid the plastic look and the corporate colors.”

The proposal will be introduced at a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 2 at City Hall.

The proposal would expand the definition of “formula business” beyond restaurants to include any “commonly franchised businesses” that are required by contract to offer “standardized services, products, menus, ingredients, decor, uniforms, interior or exterior building design, signs or similar features.”

Existing businesses, Wooldridge said, would be grandfathered, and would not need to comply with the new standards.

But he said those businesses would probably become “nonconforming uses,” meaning that they would have to comply with the new uses if they relocated or substantially remodeled.

The proposal also calls for a design review board that would become part of the city’s planning process. That citizen board would be made up of architects, urban designers, arts commission members, planning commissioners and developers, among others, Wooldridge said.

“It would not include staff or the City Council,” he said. “In fact, the City Council would be totally out of the picture.”

Design-review members would look at the project during the presently required pre-application meeting, and would guide the project proponents on meeting the city’s design guidelines.

Applicants would then be required to convene a community meeting, now an optional step. After staff review, the design-review board would get another crack at the plans, a step that Wooldridge said was aimed at determining whether the guidelines had been met.

“They will have no real authority,” he said. “But like the Planning Commission, they would make recommendations to the planning director that we expect would be given some weight.”

Current design guidelines for Winslow would remain largely intact, Wooldridge said, although additional provisions might be added to guard against what he calls “corporate colors” dominating any sign or facade.

The proposal also contains guidelines for the three neighborhood service centers, calling in general for parking at the rear of the buildings.

The proposal, developed by a committee that included planning commissioners, architects, developers, artists and city planners, is subject to considerable refinement, Wooldridge said.

He said the definition of “formula business” might have to be modified to exclude businesses that are not generally perceived as a problem – banks and real-estate offices, for instance.

Community feedback, he said, would help shape those decisions.

“We really encourage everybody to come out to the meetings to protect their interests,” he said.

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