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City looks to kickstart downtown plan

The council will consider development of new alleyways near Winslow Way.

Downtown streets may lead the way to Winslow’s tomorrow.

A City Council committee has placed road and pathway improvements at the top of its priority list in implementing the Winslow Tomorrow project.

“Winslow Tomorrow started with Winslow Way – it seems a logical place now to start new projects,” said Councilman Chris Snow, who joined other members of the Finance and Personnel Committee in recommending last week that $3 million budgeted for this year’s Winslow Tomorrow improvements focus on downtown’s network of streets and alleys.

The full council will consider the committee’s recommendation tonight at City Hall.

“Of the actual list of projects, this project should be the first priority for Winslow Tomorrow at this time,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee, who chairs the finance committee. “If we don’t get started on it soon, the vision of Winslow Tomorrow may never emerge.”

City staff have identified a series of work projects that fit the committee’s goals, including numerous improvements to Winslow Way, a connection between Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane, new downtown alleys and the preservation of informal trails that funnel pedestrians to Winslow’s north and south reaches.

Proposed projects along Winslow Way were divided by staff into four main sections and include underground and overhead utilities upgrades, storm drain and sewer improvements, sidewalk widening and a general repave.

Acquiring right-of-ways for new streets and alleyways was also listed in the staff recommendation. A proposed new section of street connecting to Winslow Way aimed at improving traffic circulation could mean removing the building that now houses Classic Cycle and the Isla Bonita restaurant. The new “Harbor Street” could eventually link the civic campus, which includes the Playhouse and historical museum, with Waterfront Park after additional land is acquired between Town & Country Market and the downtown post office.

The controversial Ericksen-Hildebrand connection was also listed by staff. Touted as a overdue and logical link between downtown and the Village shopping center, the proposal has raised concerns from Ericksen residents who fear increased traffic through their neighborhood.

On this topic, Snow cautions that there is much room for debate ahead.

“Hildebrand needs to be dealt with,” he said. “But what we want to do is develop a concept and public process. That takes time and is expensive, so we want to get started on that.”

Snow also emphasized that the the city will initiate a new series of public discussions about Winslow Tomorrow.

“We have to get more buy-in from the public,” he said. “Winslow Tomorrow may go in fits and starts, but one thing it’s not doing is going away.”

The committee also emphasized in its recommendation to council that parking structures and parking lots should not rank high as one the city’s immediate priorities for implementing the Winslow Tomorrow project.

Snow said the parking garage option is one of many that could alleviate downtown’s parking challenges. It’s also one of the most costly and could require a bond to meet its likely $15 million price tag.

Councilman Bill Knobloch, who expressed disappointment last week at the council’s decision to put aside development of a downtown parking garage, said he is anxious to see Winslow Tomorrow’s recommendations quickly implemented.

“I don’t care what arena it’s in,” he said. “Let’s take a first step that’s a community benefit.”

Winslow Tomorrow’s project manager Sandy Fischer said road improvements will put a good foot forward and ranks as one of three top goals identified during the Winslow Tomorrow process.

“We want to fix parking, rebuilt the streets and infrastructure and change the codes for development rights and parking,” she said. “If we move forward on one of those things, that’s great.”

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Port of Bainbridge?

The City Council will discuss the possibility of establishing a port authority to manage Eagle Harbor at tonight’s meeting.

“There’s a lot of focus on our harbor,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch. “If a port authority came along, we’d have an independent agency devoting all its resources to managing the harbor.”

Knobloch listed numerous issues the port authority could potentially undertake, including negotiations with the state over the ferry maintenance yard, the new Anchoring and Mooring Plan, the possibility of establishing a city marina, dealing with derelict vessels and regulating inner-harbor liveaboards.

“The bottom line is (the city) can’t do it all at once,” Knobloch said. “We don’t have the manpower.”

City Harbormaster Tami Allen, who essentially covers many of the areas Knobloch identified as possible port authority duties, said she knows very little about the proposal.

“Ports are shipping ports,” she said. “I don’t see the connection (for Bainbridge Island). We’re not a major shipping port.”

She expects council discussion about establishing a port authority could lead to research on other small ports in the region, including the ports of Allyn in Mason County and Manchester in south Kitsap County.

Knobloch also has some reservations about such an undertaking.

“The port at Poulsbo I hear had a real financial blow-up and is now in debt,” he said. “Right now, we’re just throwing this idea on the table and trying to find out if it’s right for us.”

The council will discuss the possible formation of a port authority at 8:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

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