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News Roundup -- Higher density helps clinic stay/Music store closes it doors/Tree lighting on Thursday

Higher density helps clinic stay

Loosened land use restrictions approved by the City Council last week could entice Virginia Mason Winslow Clinic to remain downtown and may herald more changes for a denser Winslow.

“It’s a really good thing,” said Dr. Tom Haggar, who co-owns the nearly one-acre property encompassing the clinic’s Ericksen Avenue parking lot and a building formerly occupied by Exotic Aquatics. “This means we can go ahead and consider the possibility of keeping the clinic where it is.”

The council’s approval last week of an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan expands the “Core Overlay District” to include Haggar’s parcel, which is currently part of the more residential “Ericksen Overlay District.”

Previous land use designations limited a building’s footprint on the parcel to 2,500 square feet, restricting the cramped clinic from expanding services downtown, the retired Winslow Clinic doctor said.

Haggar and his partner, Dr. Rob Scribner, own four adjacent properties, including one that contains the bulk of the clinic facility. The recently approved land use changes link the properties under uniform zoning.

Proposed by Haggar two years ago, the amendment drew fire from some nearby residents who feared that an expansion of the higher-density zoning would enable Haggar or a future owner to build a “big box” structure out of scale with neighboring buildings.

But the Winslow Tomorrow project strongly backed the proposal, arguing that an expansion of the higher density zoning may help downtown retain an anchor business, encourage underground parking and open up the possibility of a new street to boost circulation.

“This property is a microcosm of Winslow Tomorrow,” said Charlie Wenzlau, one of the project’s key participants. “The Haggar property will facilitate new access lanes and a link between (the Playhouse) and Winslow Way.”

A number of Winslow Tomorrow participants testified on the plan’s behalf before the council last week.

Some envision the creation of a new street running along the clinic’s west side and linking with a lane carved out of Town & Country Market’s parking lot.

Haggar has no set plans for the property, but said this week that the council’s action opens many possibilities.

“With this zoning change I can help work to make a new street happen,” he said.

Haggar said he’s also considering underground parking for the site, but that will likely require further land use changes. Current regulations call for four parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space, which Haggar said encourages developments resembling “strip malls.”

But the increased density on his property, and the possibility of future density boosts, may enable the clinic or other tenants to be able to afford building parking lots underground.

“If, in fact, we go ahead with higher density, then there’ll be enough building to pay for underground parking,” he said.

Still, not everyone is sold on the idea of a bigger building at the corner of Winslow Way and Ericksen.

“This is a huge change,” said Sally Adams, during a recent presentation to the council about the property.

Adams held an illustration showing the maximum scale and size the zoning changes could allow.

“It’s a massive building, covering land that’s currently open,” she said.

Haggar assured Adams that a four-story building would be “ridiculous” and stressed that city design reviews would assure that the monolith in Adams’ illustration would likely not happen.

Some councilors said part of their approval of the amendment was based on faith that Haggar would look out for the best interests of the community.

Larry Nakata, co-owner of Town & Country, urged the council to take Haggar’s character “under consideration” because he is “a known entity.”

“If I was a betting person, who’s better to bet on?” he asked. “I’d bet on this.”

Haggar said higher density on his property – and elsewhere downtown – beats the alternative.

“It’s better to creep up than to sprawl out,” he said.

– Tristan Baurick

Music store closes it doors

After Wednesday, there will be no sounds of music from Deering Music Company. Owner Barbara Deering is moving her Eriksen Avenue store online.

Rising costs in the downtown area and the expense of doing business in general forced Deering to find another way to meet the needs of her customers after 12 years in business.

“Every year it cost me $15,000 to $20,000 of my money,” said Deering, a longtime performer and music teacher. “You have to have a lot of customers to make a living and pay the bills here.”

Deering will maintain her inventory of quality items for sale, from picks to music books to instruments. The difference is, customers will use their fingers – not their cars – to find her.

“I’m 12 years older now and I don’t have the energy any more. I think my life will be a lot easier,” she said.

But Deering won’t necessarily be happier – at least not in the beginning.

“I’ll miss the store and the customers,” Deering said. “Giving my customers hugs, asking about their kids, giving their dogs a bone.”

Deering views her store’s demise as the latest in a trend among downtown businesses.

“I have never seen so many empty downtown spaces that stay empty. People that have the day-in, day-out commodity businesses, that are mom-and-pop-based, they’re going to disappear. It’s so easy to get online and people like to shop the malls in Seattle,” she said.

Nonetheless, Deering plans to continue teaching – “that’s my favorite part” – and taking care of her customers. She plays guitar and saxophone, among a dozen other instruments, and is a percussion tutor for high school band students.

“I’m keeping my online store so I can service those tried-and-true customers who don’t want to drive to Silverdale or Poulsbo,” she said.

Rental instruments and repair service remain available, along with pick up and delivery.

Deering wants customers to know they will have “the same kind of convenience they had before, even though there’s no store to walk into.”

She plans to spend the extra time she has with her grandchildren, performing with her bands and tackling writing projects, as well as working with “Simply Instrumental.” Deering started that nonprofit organization to put instruments in the hands of children in the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and musicians who lost their instruments in hurricanes.

“My local music store saved my life (when I was growing up). It was where I hung out, had my lessons – voice, piano, guitar,” Deering said. “It was my life.”

From her first store in Lynwood to a space on Winslow, to the house on Eriksen, Deering’s mission never wavered.

“I wanted to do this for my community,” she said. “I feel like I did.”

Deering emphasized that she will continue to give her customers “really quality service.”

“I really thank them for the years that they gave me and the friendships that evolved,” she said. “It’s been a joy.”

Deering Music Company’s new website will be operational soon. It will be run locally and offer pick up and delivery on a daily basis, Deering said.

The business phone number is the same: 780-5570. For more information email deeringmusico@yahoo.com.

– Rhona Schwartz

Tree lighting on Thursday

Santa Claus is coming to town on Dec. 1 for Winslow’s second annual double tree lighting festivities.

The community is invited to gather behind City Hall at 5:30 p.m. to herald the arrival of Santa and his six elves – members of the 2005 Bainbridge High School swim team – in a fire truck. Greeting him will be Mayor Darlene Kordonowy. The master of ceremonies is Rob Beattie.

The Bainbridge High School band and members of the Bainbridge Chorale will provide musical entertainment.

After the first tree is lit, everyone will follow Santa and parade down Madrone Lane to the second tree lighting. This tree is located between American Marine and Washington Mutual banks.

Members of Ovation! Musical Theatre and Les Femmes d’Enfer will perform and refreshments will be provided by American Marine Bank. Horsedrawn wagons will provide free rides through downtown starting at about 5 p.m., said Cris Beattie, executive director of the Downtown Association.

Downtown merchants will serve more refreshments and fun at a collective open house from 2 to 8 p.m. The merchants are vying for prizes from the downtown association for “Best Holiday Window Display,” “Best Outdoor Lighting Extravaganza” and “Best In-Store Holiday Atmosphere.”

The tree lightings are co-sponsored by the City of Bainbridge Island and the Downtown Association. Toys will be collected for the Toys for Tots fund.

— Rhona Schwartz

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