Higher density plan for Lynwood Center

Local residents fear increased density will hurt area’s rural feel.

Be they symptom or remedy, the signs of more dense urban growth are no longer confined to downtown.

Two developers are asking the city to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow greater residential density in Lynwood Center, the first such request outside of Winslow in over eight years.

The two parcels under consideration are immediately west of Walt’s Lynwood Market and south of Baker Hill Road.

Much of the area is zoned for two residences per acre. The proposals would increase that rate to five per acre and as much as eight in one portion bordering Point White Drive. While comprising less than four acres, the plan has raised the hackles of some neighbors who fear the density boost could alter the area’s rural feel.

“These (plans) would be a special favor to help these landowners make more money,” said Baker Hill resident Peter McCormick. “They’re not taking more people in the public good.”

Arnie Sturham, proprietor of the nearby Treehouse Cafe, says an increase in Lynwood’s population could be a boom for his business, but a bust for small-town feel.

“The island’s developing at a feverish rate,” Sturham said. “From a business standpoint, it’s probably an advantage. But from a personal standpoint of someone who lives here, I’m not all that thrilled.”

But Jeb Thornburg, who owns the larger of the two parcels, said higher density in an already developed area can help preserve stretches of greenery elsewhere and meet government guidelines for expected growth.

“Growth is happening and we’re doing our best to put it in the right spots,” Thornburg said.

Under the state’s Growth Management Act, Bainbridge Island must plan to accommodate nearly 7,000 new residents by 2025. Much of that growth will be funneled into Winslow, but 5 percent must be borne by “neighborhood service centers,” including Lynwood Center, Rolling Bay and Island Center.

Lynwood is the first such center on the island to attract higher density interest.

A recent sewer hookup means the neighborhood could absorb more people than areas outside Winslow that are dependent on septic systems.

“Lynwood is ripe to accommodate more people because it has sewer and water services,” Thornburg said.

But allowing the zoning changes would break a city promise that recent sewer upgrades couldn’t be used to justify increased density, according to McCormick.

“If this goes through, it could feel like a bait-and-switch,” McCormick said.

Recently connected to the south end’s sewer system to alleviate septic problems and pollution of Rich Passage, many residents called for assurance that improved infrastructure wouldn’t mean a building bonanza.

Sewer District 7, whose Fort Ward plant provides service to residents in four south-end neighborhoods, enacted a written policy that reflected residents’ concerns.

The district’s policy states that the availability of sewer service should not be used as a basis for up-zoning, said sewer commissioner Gale Ashton.

At the same time, Ashton admits the sewer district has no power to enforce such a policy and that the system could, if need be, accommodate the rise in sewer demand.

“The fact is, people living here leave around breakfast time and that results in low utilization,” Ashton said. “If we provide service to more households, it would not cause stress on the sewage plant.”

Despite the sewer system’s capacity to handle increased growth, the two developers have a stronger argument based on the Growth Management Act’s call for increased density, said city planner Libby Hudson.

“Under the GMA, the city needs to accommodate growth and that growth should be directed to urban service areas,” she said.

One item that would have bolstered McCormick’s argument was cut from the city’s Comprehensive Plan late last year. According to Hudson, the deleted text called for no density increases to portions of the island zoned for two residences per acre.

McCormick hopes the city will reject the two amendment requests based, in part, on the fact that other portions of Lynwood haven’t reached their zoning capacity.

“There’s plenty of space already there that’s not utilized,” he said. “Maybe when they fill up, then we can talk about getting more people. But we’re far from that point right now.”

If permitted, McCormick believes the amendments could mean additional growth in other parts of the island.

“This could set a precedent,” he said. “If it’s allowed here, other property (owners) could go to the city and say ‘me too, me too.’”

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