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From the ground, up

Kim Sorenson of Bellevue development firm Base Capital LLC sports a fashionable hardhat as project manager for Island Crossings, a $17.75 million mixed-use development under constrution on High School Road.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Kim Sorenson of Bellevue development firm Base Capital LLC sports a fashionable hardhat as project manager for Island Crossings, a $17.75 million mixed-use development under constrution on High School Road.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

A hotel/condo development takes shape on High School Road.

The neighbors think it’s just too big.

The city zoning map begs to differ, and says 60 residential units and a commercial building are okay along that stretch of High School Road.

It is – at least until a still-bigger development breaks ground near the ferry terminal – the most noticeable recent change to the Winslow skyline.

It’s called Island Crossings.

You might have seen it.

“I think we’re really excited about the project – it’s a good fit for the community,” said Kim Sorenson, project manager for the mixed-use development on the north side of High School Road, across from the Village shopping center. “Bainbridge is growing, and we’re part of that growth. We’re happy with (the project).”

With construction crews working six-day shifts, half of the project – a 51-room hotel – could open this fall. The 60 condominiums and ground-floor commercial spaces should be ready for occupancy in early 2006.

The project is the work of Base Capital LLC, a private real estate development and investment firm based in Bellevue.

The firm purchased the land in 1999 after it came to the attention of Base principal Ken Wakazuru, a Bainbridge resident and co-owner of Poulsbo RV.

It worked its way through the planning process as “Bainbridge Commons,” but that moniker is being abandoned as marketing gets under way. The condominiums are now known as Island Crossings, while the hotel will operate as Best Western Bainbridge Island Suites.

“We actually have people coming to the job office wanting to reserve rooms,” Sorenson said. “It’s a little too early for that, but we’ll probably start soon.”

Condo fever

Island Crossings is the third condominium project steaming to market in Winslow.

Sales of the 180-unit Harbor Square project across from the ferry terminal are brisk, even though the development has yet to break ground. Smaller in scale but perhaps richer in concept is the 16-home Meridian on Knechtel Way, completed earlier this year, which boasts its own health club and concierge.

Island Crossings appears to be the most affordable of the group. A 705-square-foot condo will fetch about $200,000; at the roomier end are 995-square-foot, two-bedroom units currently priced around $305,000.

“We’re nicely priced for the market,” said Barb McKenzie, listing agent with Coldwell Banker McKenzie Associates.

The project is being sold on its location vis-a-vis nearby restaurants and shops, theaters, the library and swimming pool, and its reasonable proximity to the ferry terminal.

“You don’t even really need to get your car out to shop or do all of your activities,” McKenzie said.

Appointments in the individual units will include slab granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, high-end carpet and laminate wood flooring. Most of the homes will offer private balconies or patios. It also boasts a garbage chute, McKenzie notes, so residents won’t have to lug their refuse to the dumpster.

About 15 units have sold so far, with most of the buyers already island residents, McKenzie said.

She and Sorenson say the project should appeal to empty-nesters looking to downsize, or first-time homebuyers hoping to enter the market.

“We think we’re providing a good project for the community,” Sorenson said, “something that’s needed, with relatively affordable condominiums.”

The project also includes 1,500 square feet of retail frontage on High School Road. Base has identified a Bainbridge buyer for the space, but the deal has yet to be finalized; Sorenson said one of the storefronts could become a locally owned coffee shop.

‘Welcome’

The project has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm.

Neighborhood groups appealed the development all the way to Superior Court, citing traffic concerns. But a judge ruled in favor of the applicant, finding that the city properly assessed the impacts of vehicle trips that will be generated by the hotel and residences.

Base Capital will, though, pay to have the High School Road/305 intersection reconfigured, most likely adding a second left-turn lane for traffic turning north onto the highway.

“We are meeting the standards of the city,” Sorenson said. “I know (traffic) is a big concern for people, but we just have to go by what the engineers tell us.”

Even before the appeals, Base Capital had several go-rounds with the Bainbridge Island Planning Com­mis­sion over the project’s scale.

During site plan review, commission members asked the applicant to sink the development further into the earth to obscure the parking garage. When Base returned with new drawings two weeks later, commissioners decided they wanted it raised again to keep the commercial space at sidewalk level.

Base wound up splitting the project into two buildings – of different heights and joined by a landscaped courtyard – to soften its appearance.

“I think it’s positive from an aesthetic viewpoint, and from a practical viewpoint,” Sorenson said of the changes. “We have a courtyard, which is a nice amenity. I do think the planning commission did a good job providing positive feedback, and probably creating a better project.”

Neighbors in the Virginia Villa apartments next door have yet to make peace with the development. Residents opposed the project throughout the process, unhappy that it cut into a wooded area near their patio.

“It doesn’t fit in, not only with this neighborhood – it doesn’t fit into the island,” said Linda O’Neil, Virginia Villa manager. “I don’t think people could visualize just how big” the project would be during permit review.

Their scrutiny has persisted during construction.

After crews topped and limbed a fir tree in a protected stand to make way for a crane arm, a Virginia Villa resident complained to the city.

As mitigation, the developers will be required to plant three new fir trees in the buffer, according to Bob Katai, city planner.

Nevertheless, most of the three-acre site has been retained as open space in a buffer behind the buildings, and Sorenson said that in itself is a selling point.

“That’ll be a nice amenity for the people in the condos, that they’ll be looking at a wetland,” she said.

The project does boast at least one feature central to the vision developing through the Winslow Tomorrow downtown planning process: hidden parking.

All resident and guest vehicles will be tucked away beneath the buildings; condominium garage access will be off High School Road, while the hotel will share a driveway with the gas station next door.

The hotel could be open this fall under the Best Western banner. The chain is used to running smallish establishments, Sorenson said, had good name recognition and offers reservations through a central system.

The condominiums are expected to be ready for occupancy next February.

As a goodwill gesture, Base Capital intends to make a contribution to a local community organization, details of which have yet to be finalized.

Sorenson said island subcontractors have been used where possible, and local involvement will continue with the hotel managed by a Bainbridge resident.

“There may be people looking at it who don’t know that a lot of islanders are involved, and think outsiders are coming in and building this,” Sorenson said. “That’s not really the case.

“A lot of islanders are part of the project.”

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