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News Roundup -- ‘Congress’ gives a report

‘Congress’ gives a report

The word of the day: woofnerf.

The Dutch term suggests a place where motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians achieve equilibrium and peer status in the pecking order of transportation.

“And it actually works,” said Dana Berg, a downtown furniture store owner. “And the key is, traffic goes very slowly.

“I think that’s what Winslow Way wants to be.”

Posited by Berg, the term drew chuckles and nods from a packed house at City Hall Tuesday evening.

The occasion: the second convention of the new Community Congress, charged with advancing a community vision for the future of the island’s downtown business district through a planning process called Winslow Tomorrow.

Members of six committees concluded a two-month-long “inquiry phase,” reporting their findings on challenges facing the commercial core and hinting at directions that planning and redevelopment might go.

The process was initiated by the mayor earlier this year, in response to calls by downtown property owners for circulation and parking improvements. Utilities in the Winslow Way corridor are also said to be aging and in need of upgrades.

One of several “story-tellers” on the evening, Berg commented that she’s always believed that Winslow Way will be a success when street musicians are a regular feature.

By design, the gathering was punctuated with performances by local musicians, including a female vocal trio and several guitarists.

Berg, her husband Bart and Winslow Hardware co-owner Mary Hall offered their recollections of growing up on the island, knit together with the common yarn of time spent downtown amidst local merchants selling groceries, hardware and other sundries.

Bart Berg and other participants called for architecture that conveys a unique sense of place for the community.

In an admittedly blunt appraisal, he expressed unhappiness with the design of both downtown bank buildings, saying neither distinguishes itself as idiosyncratic to the island.

He also expressed dismay at the recent appearance of a Subway sandwich shop on Winslow Way, a zone heretofore untouched by chain eateries.

That notion – “no themes, and no formulas” – was repeated several times throughout the evening, as participants explored the goal of keeping downtown the island’s center for social and cultural interaction as well as commercial transactions.

While the presence of locally owned, ground-floor retail was cited as a community asset, a group charged with looking at economic issues said there is evidence that downtown “isn’t firing on all cylinders.”

Several cited growing consumer-dollar “leakage” to off-island stores, and low per-capita sales tax receipts.

Community consensus, they said, will attract investment in the downtown.

“A status quo ‘do nothing’ doesn’t mean nothing changes,” said Winslow Tomorrow coordinator Sandy Fischer, comments echoed by former mayor Alice Tawresey.

Some longtime island outlets are already moving off Winslow Way, Tawresey said, citing Schmidt’s Appliance, which recently decamped for Ericksen Avenue.

Downtown issues, her group said, include traffic congestion; insufficient expansion space; confusing and contradictory codes and enforcement; a lack of employee and customer parking; and escalating rents for commercial space.

A parking committee identified possible short-term solutions as allocating some downtown spaces for short-term use – 15-30 minutes, maximum – for shoppers, and aggressively enforcing that limit. Long-term fixes like a parking structure also resurfaced.

Other groups plumbed more nebulous concepts, including “community character” and sustainability, defined by one group as “a creative balance among our unique and inherent social, environmental and economic realms.”

Some apparent contradictions were noted by speakers, including the goal of keeping downtown buildings on a “human scale” while still allowing multi-story redevelopment of the many ’50s-’60s-era storefronts.

Now, the 100-plus Community Congress participants will be winnowed and reconfigured into four new, cross-disciplinary groups that will forge competing visions of downtown and explore financing options, including a possible parking garage.

Sometime next year, a series of alternatives for downtown plans will be presented to the City Council. Participants praised the effort so far.

“We were wondering how many communities could do what we’re doing,” Congress member Jim Chapel said.

– Douglas Crist

Theater helps those serving

The Lynwood Theater will show a newly restored print of “White Christmas” on Dec. 12, as a fund-raiser to help Kitsap County families in need with a National Guardsman deployed overseas.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Washington National Guard State Family Readiness Group that is supporting families struggling since their breadwinner is serving in Iraq.

A spokeswoman for the readiness group says many soldiers have taken a cut in pay to serve.

Families at home are dealing with going from two- to one-parent homes and thus may be juggling childcare or having to go back to work to make ends meet.

With the holiday season, it is especially difficult for families of the 81st Brigade which was deployed in February this year, but had been required to be on base since November 2003, and are thus missing their second holiday season.

The 66th Aviation is preparing to be deployed at the end of the year.

TJ Faddis, manager of the theater, says the fund-raiser is in hopes that “some families can have a Christmas.”

“White Christmas” plays at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Lynwood Theater. All tickets are $6. Donations are welcome at the theatre or mailed to Lynwood Theatre, 7400 Island Center Road, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.

– Tina Lieu

Students plan fund-raiser

Like most 2004 Bainbridge High School graduates, Kendra Curtin and Lauren Nease were working hard this summer, not for college, but to make a difference in Tanzania.

“We’ve both been really interested in Africa,” Curtin said. “This is the place we thought we could make the most difference.”

Curtin and Nease are taking a year off before college, and in January will be volunteering in Tanzania through New York-based, nonprofit Cross Cultural Solutions, which has programs all over the world.

Volunteers are placed in communities to help with projects generated by the community. To that end, the two are holding a raffle fund-raiser through Dec. 19.

The pair have paid for their plane tickets out of pocket, but are now raising money for the program, which requires each volunteer to raise about $2,600, of which 90 percent goes towards helping the target communities and 10 percent goes towards room and board for the volunteer.

Curtin says they will be assigned to duties such as teaching English to a rural Tanzania community and working as helpers in an orphanage.

A senior project Curtin did on AIDS in Africa was one influence on her deciding to volunteer in Africa.

Following Tanzania, they will travel to Uganda to help Victoria Namusisi Nalongo of Sunrise Children’s Village in a program that helps get children off the streets.

The Dec. 19 raffle event runs 3-5 p.m. with tickets for $5 each or three for $10 at 9657 Sportsman Club Road. There will be refreshments, live music and the raffle drawing at 4:30.

– Tina Lieu

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