Visconsi development goes before hearing examiner for review

Islanders lined the corner of High School Road and Highway 305 in June to protest a proposed shopping center. A hearing on the development is planned for Thursday, Jan. 16.  - Richard D. Oxley | Bainbridge Island Review file
Islanders lined the corner of High School Road and Highway 305 in June to protest a proposed shopping center. A hearing on the development is planned for Thursday, Jan. 16.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley | Bainbridge Island Review file

A new set of eyes will review a controversial retail-commercial center planned near the Highway 305-High School Road intersection later this month.

Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith will hold a consolidated public hearing to discuss the Visconsi development, which represents the final step on whether the development will be permitted on Bainbridge.

Residents are invited to participate in the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan 16.

Visconsi, an Ohio-based developer, wants to build a nearly 62,000-square-foot shopping center on High School Road, directly across from the Ace Hardware. The proposal includes space for retail, restaurants, professional services and health care facilities.

The development has met extensive pushback from the community so far.

The planning commission unanimously recommended denial of Visconsi's site plan and conditional use permit Nov. 14. Commissioners said safety was the primary concern for rejecting the plan, and criticized the street layout within the proposed development.

The planning commission also offered conditions to be applied if the project was eventually approved by the city, however, and those changes included adding a crosswalk on High School Road and a prohibition against truck traffic on Polly’s Lane.

The commercial center has received strong opposition from islanders, including many residents of the nearby Stonecrest neighborhood who were worried about an increase in noise and light pollution, lower property values and reduced privacy. Others noted the project would mean the removal of more than 800 trees, and said the new businesses — which would include a Bartell Drugs store — weren't needed on the island.

City planners had earlier asked that the project be approved, and noted it fit with city regulations and the property's zoning.

Islanders for Responsible Development filed an appeal to the city's environmental review of the project Dec. 6, and raised concerns on traffic and safety, the removal of more than 800 trees, stormwater runoff and artificial light from motor vehicles and new buildings.

State law requires that the appeal of the city's environmental review of the project be combined into a consolidated hearing that includes a review of site plan design and the developer's conditional use permit.

City officials expect the upcoming hearing to last at least two days. However, in contrast to previous hearings, the hearing examiner will be the final decision-maker on whether to approve the proposal. His verdict will be based on the city's legal responsibilities toward development.

Josh Machen, planning manager for Bainbridge Island, said the first night of the hearing will probably be entirely consumed by public testimony.

"There's a lot of people who want to comment. That may spill over onto the 17th," Machen said.

Once public comment concludes, the hearing will take up the site plan review for the development and the conditional use permit.

City planning staff will give a presentation, and Visconsi officials are also expected to make a presentation.

Planning Commissioner Maradel Gale has also asked that the planning commission be given a chance to explain their recommendation that the project be rejected by the city.

The appeal of the city's environmental review of the project will follow.

Islanders for Responsible Development, the grassroots group that filed the appeal, will go first, followed by responses from the city and Visconsi.

If the combined hearing cannot be finished by Tuesday, Jan. 21, it will be extended until Wednesday, Jan. 22 and possibly Thursday, Jan. 23, Machen said.

Ron Peltier, of Islanders for Responsible Development, said there are three points he hopes the examiner will consider: safety, environmental impact and economic impact.

Peltier said the developers did not give enough consideration to how the proposal would affect pedestrians.

Additionally, like the planning commission, Islanders for Responsible Development does not want to see the commercial center developed next to the neighborhoods between Ferncliff Avenue and Highway 305.

"It's an extremely important hearing coming up," Peltier said. "Anybody who's interested in the character of the island and concerned about the development is encouraged to participate."

"We have a chance to set a new precedent here on how Bainbridge Island does development," he said.

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