Winslow coming together for plan

Property owners agree to easements for retail alleyway, utility projects. The second of two parts.

If proposals for downtown enhancements come with any momentum, it is this: early buyoff from the very people who will be asked to accommodate it.

A case in point would be changes to the alley off Madrone Lane, running east-west and crossing properties held by six different owners of adjacent buildings.

Modestly, it could be the route by which downtown power lines are undergrounded, precluding the need to tear up Winslow Way for that purpose.

But a fuller vision has the now downtrodden byway transmogrified into a new retail center, fronting three levels of parking and two stories of housing off the alley.

On Thursday, architect Bill Isley secured a verbal commitment from the last of the affected property owners to allow both utility and road easements across the alley, should the parking garage and retail area be developed.

That news, and a sense of general excitement about the new downtown planning process, have all parties looking forward to taking the proposals public.

“Everybody now seems to be humming the same tune,” Isley said.

The Winslow Way Property Owners Association will present its recommendations for downtown enhancements at an open house, 3-5 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

While it boasts other dramatic elements – two traffic roundabouts, a pedestrian/ view corridor from Winslow Way to Waterfront Park, a new greenway on the old Unocal property at the highway – absolutely key is the idea of a parking garage between Madrone Lane and the city-owned town square.

As envisioned by Isley, the 370-stall, largely underground affair would offer something to for both merchants and building owners: employee parking to keep on-street spaces freed up for shoppers, and extra capacity that building owners could “buy” to provide the parking required for business expansion.

The sale of ground-level retail space and two stories of residential units, he said, could largely offset development costs.

By Isley’s estimates, the downtown core now has a 300-space parking deficit that needs to be addressed.

Merchants echoes that sentiment in a survey conducted as part of the planning process, with respondents identifying parking as a key hindrance to keeping businesses downtown for the long term.

Kevin Dwyer, Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce executive director, says that is increasingly true with the challenge of new retail districts elsewhere, including the massive Olhava project that will put a Wal-Mart just west of Poulsbo.

“I think there’s a lot of loyalty on the island, people supporting local business,” Dwyer said. “But it doesn’t take a lot of times where (shoppers) come down and can’t find a place to park that, especially if they live at the north end of the island, they say, ‘I’m just going to drive to Poulsbo or Silverdale.’”

Also driving the planning process, backers say, is the need for better traffic circulation. It was the proposal for a three-way stop at the Winslow Way/Ericksen Avenue intersection that united property owners in the first place.

One solution: re-route Bjune Drive across what is now a private parking lot next to Town and Country, then build an oblong roundabout that would align Bjune and Ericksen much more closely than they are now.

Trucks and other service vehicles coming from the supermarket and other businesses would reach the highway via a dedicated right-turn lane, where the present Bjune now sits.

A second roundabout that would not require realignment would be built at Winslow Way and Madison Avenue.

Had the city not been successful with its roundabout on High School Road, would Isley have proposed two in downtown?

“No,” he said, “because I didn’t understand them myself.”

But Isley said the literature on roundabout safety was persuasive, as are the changing sensibilities of island drivers.

“They found it worked,” said Randy Witt, public works director, of the Madison circle. “I think they found it was better than waiting in the lines that stop signs and traffic signals had.”

Merchants polled seem pleased that one question central to the planning process is how to minimize the disruption to downtown when utility upgrades and other projects get under way.

“It was getting really depressing looking at the city’s proposal to shut down Winslow Way for two years, with some places having to close for a month or two,” said Fox Paw owner Linda Allen. “We have places that will be gone if they have to be shut for a week.”

Larry Nakata, Town and Country Markets president, said there has been more communication between downtown property owners than he can recall.

That, he hopes, will have an impact beyond whatever comes of the specific proposals to be presented Monday.

“Rather than have 38 property owners go to City Hall every time (the city is) trying to do something, and complaining about this or that, (we want) to have the group speak together to the extent we can and share a single voice,” Nakata said. “Hopefully the city looks at that as a plus rather than a negative.”

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