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Merchants to be cleared off Winslow sidewalks

Bainbridge city staff has decided to work with merchants in downtown Winslow to open sidewalks back up for pedestrians.

The increase in sidewalk retail over the past year has prompted an overflow of complaints to the city’s planning and public works departments, Planning Director Kathy Cook told the Bainbridge Island City Council.

“I think this is something that needs to be addressed,” Councilwoman Anne Blair said during last week’s extended discussion.

“From my perspective it’s something that was raised before, and when I just initially began running for city council,” she recalled.

At the end of 2012 the council determined a policy would need to be implemented to mitigate the retail use of the sidewalks, this includes dining tables, chairs, display and sales racks. As other items were prioritized above the sidewalk issue, however, a policy was never approved and the complaints have continued.

Several of the comments the staff have received include handicap accessibility, a cluttered appearance that detracts from the new Winslow aesthetic, pinch points for pedestrians walking side-by-side and general safety.

City staff has likewise received positive feedback that retail use of the side walk adds a lively streetscape and attracts customers to businesses.

At last week’s meeting, Cook emphasized that if the council deems Winslow’s sidewalk retail as a priority they would need to be prepared to take a different item off the planning department’s list of priorities temporarily.

“Right now we don’t really have the staff capacity to take this without deferring something else. We’ve got a pretty full plate,” Cook said.

The first six months of 2014 are currently devoted to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) update, a tree ordinance, Waterfront Park grant applications, permanent marijuana regulations and parking regulations.

The last six months on the department’s to-do list are the Comprehensive Plan update, continued implementation of the SMP and review of the city’s agricultural regulations.

Despite the long list of major projects, Councilman Val Tollefson supported giving priority to the sidewalk retail.

“I don’t think this has to be complicated, personally,” Tollefson said.

“I’m even in favor of giving this item priority so that we can actually get something on the books before summer.”

Interim City Attorney Jim Haney advised the council and planning department that an ordinance could be implemented to authorize semi-private use of the sidewalk under certain restrictions. One restriction, he said, would require five feet of pathway for handicap accessibility. Another could limit the size of furniture on the sidewalk and require it to be used by anyone, not just customers.

“I think it is something that people have been conscious and feel that it is a problem for some of the very reasons that we redid the sidewalks,” Blair said.

“And I agree, too, it shouldn’t have to be terrifically complicated, but we need to have it done by the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I want to be ready to enforce it by then.”

Councilman Steve Bonkowski disagreed that the sidewalk should take precedence over other priority items.

“My problem is that, when I look at the list that’s provided by city staff, I don’t want to take any of those off,” Bonkowski said.

“I don’t see any of those, that I’m willing to say, “I’m not going to do that for a few months so that I can work on a sidewalk ordinance.”

The debate took a turn for a solution when Councilman Wayne Roth suggested the city attempt to work out voluntary compliance with the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce.

But hesitant to give the work load to the two groups, Blair asked what should the city do if the organizations say no to clearing the sidewalk.

It would draw the process out, she said.

“It’s just a slower way of doing it, and will not necessarily cure staff time,” Blair said.

“It is perhaps less intrusive to a very full platter, but it still puts work on the planning.”

Tollefson recommended two council members review sample ordinances that were brought forward last year and propose one to the downtown organizations.

At this, City Manager Doug Schulze told the council if it is selecting one of the sample ordinances the council wants to do, it could be work easily shifted to the executive department.

The executive department could also enlist a volunteer from the associations who is interested in giving additional help.

In an end to a long debate, the council agreed to Schulze’s proposal.

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