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Islanders protest shopping center planned for High School Road
Protesters opposed to a new shopping center lined the corner of Highway 305 and High School Road near the proposed location of the new project Tuesday, collecting fist pumps, thumbs up, and a steady stream of honks from passers-by during the evening commute.
The proposed development includes a shopping center and medical offices, as well as a bank, retail spaces, restaurants and a Bartell Drugs store with a drive-thru pharmacy. Some islanders, however, have questioned whether the project is needed and have raised concerns about traffic and other issues.
“More people showed up than
I thought would,” said Ron Peltier, the organizer of the demonstration. “I was prepared to come out here by myself.”
But Peltier didn’t stand alone. The 48-year Bainbridge resident, a contractor, was joined by a collection of approximately 15 islanders.
Each protester had their own reasons for joining the demonstration, from traffic worries to supporting responsible growth. But all agreed that the proposed shopping center was not appropriate for the corner.
Retaining trees and green space are a chief concern for Peltier. But that is not all he finds troubling about the project.
“Most people will be able to relate to the traffic,” he said, further noting that the ProBuild store will remain at the opposite end of the shopping center’s site. The entrance to the lumber yard, which is often used by large trucks, runs through the area that would be developed.
“There are safety issues with the lumber yard access,” Peltier said.
Peltier also noted the busy intersection nearby, and the Village Shopping Center located on the other side of Highway 305. Safeway and Rite Aid are among the Village’s tenants.
Peltier said that traffic is currently about as bad as islanders can tolerate at the intersection and that the shopping center will make it worse. More responsible planning is needed, he said.
“It’s got to work with the traffic, and the values and the needs of the community,” Peltier said. “We’re not a typical urban center. We did not move here to have traffic like they have in Seattle or Silverdale.”
The shopping center is currently in the permitting process, and city officials have noted the project fits with the zoning of the property. The potential impact on traffic has been already analyzed by a consultant company, and was paid for by Visconsi Companies, the developers behind the project.
The study looked at traffic between 4 and 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 12 and took into account nearby intersections such as Ferncliff Venue/High School Road, and Wyatt Way/Madison Avenue. It also considered traffic at the McDonald’s across the street from the proposed development.
Critics of the shopping center said the study was flawed.
“The traffic study was done from 4 to 6 p.m. on a March workday,” said Linda Andrews, president of the Stonecress Homeowners’ Association. “That’s before the ferry arrives at 6:05 p.m. That is the busiest ferry when we see commuters get into their cars, drive north on Ferncliff and west on High School Road. That’s when traffic backs up. We envision quite a traffic snarl here.”
The Stonecress community, a neighborhood of homes built about a decade ago, lies on the east side of the site. Residents of the community have previously raised concerns over increased traffic from the development.
Other sign holders objected to the businesses that will occupy the site.
“Most people live on this island for a reason,” said islander Tami Meader, who held a sign that said, “Bellevue Coming Soon.”
“We came here for a certain quality of life, and we would like the city, and the builder, to think about what they are doing for the people here,” she said. “I don’t know if a Bartell’s is the way to go.”
“It’s quite redundant of what we already have,” he said. “It’s going to undermine existing businesses. We have a lot of vacant (shop) space on the island and I haven’t talked to a single person who thinks we need another drug store.”
Bainbridge Island currently has three main pharmacies: Rite Aid, Vern’s Winslow Drug, and one at Safeway.
Despite their objections to the proposed project, the protestors weren’t entirely against developing the site. Rather, they said they wanted a different focus to the project.
“It could be businesses that bring in work, so people can live and work on this island,” Meader said. “And afford to live and work here.”