Hearing gets underway on controversial Visconsi shopping center

Public testimony gets underway before a packed house at Bainbridge Island City Hall on Thursday as the city
Public testimony gets underway before a packed house at Bainbridge Island City Hall on Thursday as the city's hearing examiner begins his review of the controversial Visconsi shopping center proposal.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

Bainbridge residents opposed to a new shopping center on High School Road packed city hall for the start of a hearing examiner's review of the controversial Visconsi development Thursday night.

Council chambers was filled with a standing-room-only crowd as testimony began on the proposed development before Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith.

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 proposal has been bitterly opposed by residents of the nearby Stonecrest neighborhood and others across Bainbridge, however, who warn the project will bring increased traffic and other problems to the High School Road-Highway 305 area.

City planning staff had earlier recommended approval of the project, noting that the proposal fits with zoning and city regulations, but the city's planning commission unanimously rejected the site plan and conditional use permit for the project in mid-November.

Now, the proposal is under review by the city's hearing examiner, who will decide whether the project should proceed and if the city's environmental review of the development has been adequate.

Testimony on the project was largely opposed to the project during Thursday's meeting, though the proponents of the new shopping center had their first chance to talk to publicly about their plans since they were shot down late last year.

Charlie Wenzlau, architect for the project, said he worked to make sure the proposal would not seem out of place for Bainbridge.

"My goal with every project I do on Bainbridge is to create a sense a place that fits with the island character," Wenzlau said.

"For those of you who know my work, you'll know that's true," he added. "I just finished doing the initial phase down at Lynwood Center, which is completely built around creating a sense of place around that neighborhood."

"I also strive to work carefully with the staff, the Design Review (Board) and all the codes to make sure we're in full compliance. I wouldn't ever want to bring a project in front of the staff without having done so," Wenzlau said.

The hearing examiner indicated that commercial development of the property was not in debate, but rather, the proposal itself would be evaluated.

"The city has zoned this property for commercial use. And so the idea of that nothing commercial can happen on this property is not really attainable," Smith said. "So the question is not going to be whether the city made a mistake in the zoning the property commercial but whether the project fits into the site of the neighborhood. This is really what it's about."

The hearing restarted at city hall on Friday morning.


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