City may tweak island’s growth strategy

Make room for 6,900 more residents by 2025, the state says.

Parts of the island may have a tough time absorbing hundreds of new residents expected over the next 20 years unless new growth management strategies are adopted, city planners say.

“We have some important issues we need to deal with, obviously,” said city planner Libby Hudson during a public meeting to address island population forecasts Thursday evening.

The greater Winslow area and neighborhood service areas, including Rolling Bay, Lynwood Center and Island Center, will need revamped planning to match city and state mandates for accommodating growth, according to the population allocation study presented at the meeting.

The city is required by the state Growth Management Act to plan for about 6,900 new residents by 2025, above the current island population of 21,760.

To protect the island’s rural character, open spaces and environmental health, the city’s Comprehensive Plan directs 50 percent of this growth into the Winslow area, 5 percent in neighborhood centers and 45 percent in the island’s remaining open residential areas.

The study’s growth projections and development potential indicates the Winslow area would fail to absorb about 464 people.

Neighborhood service centers would likely miss growth targets by about 82 people while the rest of the island may have a surplus of 2,525 people, according to the study.

With little vacant land in the Winslow area, planners suggested higher density allowances around downtown.

Planners also proposed improved infrastructure, such as sewer service, in neighborhood centers and greater collaboration with the Winslow Tomorrow project.

Planners hope to form an advisory committee in the next few weeks to help craft adjustments to meet growth distribution goals across the island.

A series of public hearings would follow with the planning adjustments going before the City Council for approval in the summer of 2006.

Former City Councilman Andy Maron commended planners for including citizens in the growth management process.

“The most important thing clearly is to involve the public,” he said, adding that increased involvement will help residents understand that the island’s planning goals were mandated by the state. The alternative to planning for growth, he said, could “scatter people everywhere on the island.”

Some who attended the meeting disagreed that a population boom is looming.

“I find the projections on growth tenuous,” said Mary Parker of Rolling Bay. “I think we’ll be dying out some with the (old) age of our population and with the lack of youth growth on the island.”

But the island’s graying population and dearth of people in their 20s and 30s are prime reasons for thoughtful growth management, said Liz Taylor of Ferncliff.

“I see a lot of gray hair in the audience,” she said. “We have an unusually high number of old people on the island. Being close together is a better way to grow old than living out in the boonies.”

Taylor said increased density means elderly residents will be closer to support services, stores and companionship without having to drive or travel far.

She also said the island’s aging population will likely struggle with finding workers for care and other services due to few affordable housing options for young people or lower-wage earners.

Some in the audience hoped to keep Bainbridge as is, despite growth projections.

“Isn’t it possible for the island to stay the way we thought it would?” asked Kathy Blossom. “Can’t we say to the state that we don’t want any more people? Do we have to pony up, or do we have the right to say what’s not reasonable?”

Councilwoman Christine Rolfes answered that “tricky legal dances” with the state would likely meet little sucess.

Tighter restrictions on building permits and stricter zoning would also “not be particularly politically palatable,” she said.

Residents must contend with a stronger force than the state to stem the population flood.

“In the end, we’re at the whim of market forces,” Rolfes said.

* * * * *

Get involved

The city will take applications for the new volunteer Growth Advisory Committee for the next two weeks. Applications are available at the mayor’s office upstairs in City Hall. The committee will develop growth planning alternatives from October until the end of the year. Public hearings on proposed alternatives will begin in February 2006 with final recommendations going to the City Council for approval in July 2006.

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