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News Roundup -- Marsh project abandoned/Impact fee hike tabled

Marsh project abandoned

The city is abandoning a saltwater marsh restoration project that failed to gain the neighborhood support it required.

A 1.3-acre Manitou Beach marshland was slated for improvements to clear a culvert that blocks saltwater from entering a wetland linked to a hillside stream.

The property was purchased by the city in 2003 with open space bond funding, and the restoration project was contingent upon full support from nearby residents.

Advocates of the project said improving or expanding the culvert could re-establish a functional estuary, providing critical habitat for young salmon, birds and other species.

But many of the nearly 30 households in the Murden Cove Homeowners Association feared the project could increase the odor of decaying sea life prevalent on nearby beaches.

Residents also raised concerns that the proposed estuary may boost traffic from visitors and increase flood dangers.

With the challenge of obtaining 100 percent support in mind, the City Council late last year earmarked $65,000 for outreach and planning to gather full neighborhood backing.

The effort failed, according to city staff.

“Through various meetings, correspondence and conversations, it has become clear that the neighbors’ desire is to maintain the status quo,” City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs said in a memo to the City Council this week. “They do not support developing the salt marsh.”

Some residents said they were in the dark about plans to discontinue the project.

“This is a project I’ve worked on for years, and just like that it’s discontinued,” said Joe Deets, a former resident of Manitou Beach who now lives on Sunrise Drive. “I was floored when I heard it. We were not given adequate notice.”

But the effort to improve habitat in the area is not dead, said planner Peter Namtvedt Best.

He plans to help coordinate renewed efforts in the neighborhood through the Shoreline Stewardship Program, a year-old project that assists community-based conservation and restoration. Best said working to reestablish an estuary could be “one potential outcome” of the stewardship program.

The $65,000 aimed at estuary enhancements will likely be funneled into the stewardship program. Wednesday, the City Council asked the administration to draft a resolution to that end.

Deets welcomes the stewardship program’s involvement.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “There was the sense that the project was adrift and no one knew what was happening. Maybe (the stewardship program) will be less bureaucratic and involve the community more.”

– Tristan Baurick

Impact fee hike tabled

It’s time for city officials to consider an increase in impact fees for local schools, and at the moment, the Bainbridge Island School District would rather not.

A proposal to raise fees for new construction – which in turn helps pay for new school infrastructure – comes at a time that the district is trying to focus attention on a more pressing issue: the campaign to pass an $8.9 million technology levy on May 17.

“The city typically looks at increases in school impact fees in April, and we would like them to wait,” Superintendent Ken Crawford told the school board Thursday night. “I see no reason why this conversation can’t be postponed until a later date.”

Impact fees, currently set at $4,390 for a single family home, are leveled on new construction, paid each time a new house is built on the island. The money is said to pay one-third of the cost of providing a new seat in a school classroom.

City officials have proposed raising the rate to $5,800 per single family home, noting that the fee hasn’t been raised in five years.

The issue turned up on this week’s school board agenda, but Crawford recommended tabling it until late summer, when a “master plan” of the district’s infrastructure needs is complete.

That master plan will outline which aging school structures are most in need of remodeling and replacement, and voters will be asked to finance the project, estimated at over $40 million, in a bond election this fall.

The master plan analysis will provide the district with data regarding future enrollment and construction needs that will be helpful in the impact fee discussion, he said.

“If there is a fee increase, we’d want to provide the public with information about the larger school construction issues,”

Crawford said, “and we’re quite a ways away from making those decisions.”

Impact fees are collected by the city on behalf of the school district, and park district officials have occasionally proposed adding an impact fee of their own to fund new park construction.

Critics contend that they drive up the cost of new homes, and the fees are typically opposed by the homebuilding industry.

“Homebuilders don’t believe that impact fees are a good way to fund infrastructure, because you are collecting from a very small group of people,” said Art Castle, executive vice president of Homebuilders Association of Kitsap County.

On Bainbridge Island, he said, there are about 200 new housing units built each year, “and in reality, that’s not much money.”

The Homebuilders Association supports proposed legislation, House Bill 2196 sponsored by Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) and Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) which would impose an excise tax on every home sale.

“This tax would provide a broader source of funding, and would produce five to 10 times more for school construction than the impact fee ever will,” Castle said, arguing that fees on new construction also makes homes less affordable. “We are pricing our workforce out of the ability to buy homes.”

The issue is one that school officials would apparently prefer to avoid right now.

“We want to defer the fee issue until we can analyze it and do a better job of communicating to the public about it,” Crawford said.

– Rhonda Parks Manville

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