Council eases business restrictions

The changes will allow new types of start-ups at Day Road, other areas.

Bainbridge Island just took a big step out of the industrial age and leaped into the 21st century, business leaders say.

The City Council on Wednesday approved a broader definition of light manufacturing zoning, allowing more “knowledge-based” ventures into areas previously reserved for warehouses and assembly lines.

“I’m quite happy the code has been updated and that (land) uses now match businesses’ needs,” said Shari Watson, a member of the Day Road Business Association. “These changes better match what light manufacturing has evolved into.”

Under the new definition, medical facilities, architectural design companies, law firms, engineers and scientists can now take root on much of Day Road and parts of Miller and Sportsman Club roads.

“This means more room for (existing) businesses to expand and more places for entrepreneurial start-ups,” Watson said.

Passing by a 6-1 margin, the zoning changes would provide incentive for local businesses to remain on island or attract new businesses, council members said.

An increased pool of employers could also mean more jobs on the island and fewer packed ferries to Seattle loaded with the island’s labor force.

“This is needed so people can live and work on this island,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee.

The new rules also expanded some “conditional use” rules for other businesses. “Professional service” providers, including insurance companies, real estate agents and financial consultants could be permitted on a case-by-case basis.

Non-office service businesses, such as barbers, shoe repair shops, dry cleaners and tanning salons, are still barred from light manufacturing, as are most retail outlets.

Retail and personal service businesses were kept out of light manufacturing zones “to retain more of these businesses in downtown and not have the (light manufacturing) areas compete with the Winslow core,” city senior planner Bob Katai said.

While some feared “big box” super stores popping up under new zoning guidelines, Katai said the broad restriction on retail makes Wal-Marts and Walgreens a “non-issue.”

Some retail will be allowed as long as the sale products come directly from the on-site manufacturer. Roadside signs advertising such services will not be permitted under the new rules.

Some food service will be allowed, as long as the focus is on manufacturing district employees. A possible lunch-break destination would have to be fully hidden from public streets, limited to 2,000 square feet and match the operating hours of nearby businesses.

Many Day Road workers have adapted to the dearth of on-site food service by packing lunches and constructing job-site kitchenettes.

But new corner cafes could build a sense of community among workers who generally stay cloistered in their respective buildings, Watson said.

“A coffee shop could create a synergy of people knowing each other, of people running into each other and saying, ‘How are you doing? What do you do?’” she said.

The zoning changes won’t likely cause a rush for Day Road just yet, as most of the area’s facilities are at capacity.

But new facilities are on the way. A 10-building industrial park, with almost 90,000 square feet of space, is set for a portion of Sportsman Club Road.

A predicted boom in light manufacturing zones could come with a few negative side effects, warned Councilwoman Deborah Vann, who cast the lone opposing vote for the changes.

“I’m blown away by the fact we may have some fairly large business parks,” she said. “My concern is that this is a pretty sharp turn from the Comprehensive Plan, which has Winslow as the core for business.”

Located in the north and center of the island, new development in areas zoned for light manufacturing would be “nowhere near where we want growth to be,” she said.

Vann also expressed concerns that more business outside Winslow could mean gridlock on generally open roads.

“We might be looking at a traffic nightmare,” she said. “Look at High School Road. We could have 10 times that amount.”

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