Next up: Winslow parking and traffic studies

A ‘preferred vision’ for downtown should go to the council for review in September.

With the endorsement of council members and property owners alike, the Winslow Tomorrow downtown planning process picked up momentum this week.

The council approved $81,000 for a comprehensive study of traffic circulation and parking in the downtown area, part of a $271,000 authorization to fund the planning effort through the end of the year.

“I’m just in awe of the project, and looking forward to what you’re going to bring us in the next phase,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said, in an evening punctuated by superlatives from the council and applause from the gallery.

Planning coordinator Sandy Fischer and members of the Community Congress briefed the council in a special meeting Wednesday, on their efforts to provide a long-term vision for the commercial core.

Among the goals are increasing retail space, solving parking woes, peacefully integrating pedestrian and vehicular traffic and providing new public gathering spaces, with an overarching goal of keeping Winslow’s “anchor” businesses in place.

Key to the next phase is transportation, and the city will retain a consultant to do a full traffic and parking analysis of the Winslow area. The study will include input from transit and pedestrian advocates, Fischer said.

“It’s going to look at everywhere from New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club (roads) down to the ferry terminal,” Fischer said. “It really has value that goes well beyond Winslow Tomorrow.”

Various committees from the Community Congress offered reports on their work to date. John Waldo, with Ryan Vancil one of two attorneys serving on a committee looking at possible code revisions, suggested that parking requirements for downtown businesses may need to be eased.

The current code requires that commercial property owners provide four spaces for every 1,000 square feet of retail space, a standard said to be unattainable and undesireable in Winslow.

“If you do that, you get kind of a suburban look,” Waldo said. “There’s a place for that, and that place is High School Road. It’s fine for what it is, but we don’t think we really want downtown to look like that.”

Several council members said they hoped the strategies include getting the cars of downtown employees off Winslow Way, to free up scarce spaces for shoppers and service patrons.

A committee comprised of architects and planners is also looking at easing zoning restrictions downtown, to put enough “carrots” in front of property owners to make redevelopment profitable. A package of recommendations is expected to go before the council for consideration in the coming months.

Due before the council in September is a series of alternative visions for downtown – including a “preferred alternative” – and strategies for financing improvements. Community Congress member Chuck DePew suggested that financing could be through a combination of revenue and general obligation bonds, local improvement districts and other means.

Whatever else is proposed, the city must replace utilities throughout the downtown core, likely to be a costly endeavor. But prompted by questions from the council, Fischer cited studies suggesting that every dollar of public investment in the downtown core will be matched five or 10 times over in private money.

“This is going to require an investment on our part,” Fischer said. “But we have to look at it as an investment and understand that out of that investment, how it’s likely to play out in terms of jobs, additional tax revenues, and being able to create that sort of complete community and (keep) services on the island.”

Cris Beattie, director of the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association, said she and Fischer have been canvassing Winslow Way to discuss the planning with merchants. They’ve been met with enthusiasm, she said, although the question remains, “When are they going to close the street, and for how long?”

“They will always have those questions, until we give them an answer,” Beattie said.

The answer: the earliest. Randy Witt, public works director, said he anticipates a year’s worth of design work.

“When we become comfortable with what the street could look like, (then we can) work through discussions with the community and the businesses on how are we going to phase this, and try and minimize the impact.”

The planning effort began last year in response to merchant concerns over city plans to put a stop sign at Winslow Way and Ericksen Avenue. Merchants and property owners provided their own proposals, prompting City Hall to form a citizen-based planning process.

Wednesday, the effort received the endorsement of Tom Haggar, owner of the Winslow Clinic property, and Town & Country Market principle Larry Nakata.

By one estimate, the city has received a half-million dollars’ worth of professional and volunteer services in the planning effort to date, an estimate that Councilman Nezam Tooloee suggested is on the low side.

“Trying to put a value on the ideas and expertise that have been contributed to get us to this point, my guess is that it has at least one more zero, maybe more,” he said.

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