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Critics of new shopping center talk of possible legal challenge, boycott
A boycott may be in store for the proposed Visconsi shopping center on the corner of Highway 305 and High School Road.
Ron Peltier of Islanders for Responsible Development said Friday that with the hearing examiner's decision this week to approve the development, the group will consider an appeal of the decision in Superior Court or may organize a boycott.
"We're opposed to it because of the particulars of the development," Peltier said.
"Existing commercial space should get redeveloped instead of paving more land in order to get it right the second time. Visconsi is a second Safeway," he said, referencing the grocery store-anchored shopping center on the other side of Highway 305.
Peltier explained that the Islanders for Responsible Development opposed the proposed Visconsi shopping center because of traffic, environmental and aesthetic impacts. He also said that the new center will hurt downtown Winslow and the surrounding businesses.
All of which, he said, was not consistently addressed in the 65-page decision document issued by the hearing examiner late Thursday afternoon.
"It's kind of muddled and contradictory," Peltier said. "And it makes me question if Mr. Smith has seen better days."
"I think it's a highly prejudicial decision," he added.
Peltier also claimed Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith downplayed the visual impact of the new development.
Smith talked about potential visual impacts at length in his decision.
He noted that the city's Design Review Board found the design of the project acceptable.
"It gave particularly high marks to the Visconsi design," Smith said of the Design Review Board, and for the developer's choice to break up the size and appearance of the new buildings to lessen visual impacts to off-site eyes.
Smith also said that a buffer of trees will help hide the project from passersby on Highway 305, and noted the project will be most visible at the development's southern end, where a McDonald's drive-through restaurant is currently located on the other side of High School Road.
Smith also praised the work of project architect Charlie Wenzlau, writing in his decision: "From the standpoint of avoiding adverse offsite visual effects, his design comes about as close to zero-impact as it is possible to get."
"(The buffers are) not going to be as substantial as people think," Peltier said when noting Stafford's comment that the development will be hidden from the highway.
"People need to remember this later when they drive by and they see the flea-bit remnants of the trees that are there now."
As for zoning, Peltier said that Smith's decision trivializes the scale of the project.
"On the one hand, he says the project is limited with site constraints, and on the other hand, he's telling us that we should be happy they [the developer] didn't elect to have a more intense and aggressive project," Peltier said.
"He knows very well that this project is limited to access and the project that they are doing right now is barely acceptable," he said.
In the coming weeks, Peltier said, Islanders for Responsible Development will discuss their next steps with their lawyer.
"There are options. We can file an appeal or we are also considering organizing a boycott," Peltier said.
"People need to know what they're going to get. This sprawl that is going to be imposed on us is going to be brought to us by Key Bank."
Overall, though, the upcoming update of the city's Comprehensive Plan and zoning code will prove to be the next big chance to make real change on Bainbridge, he said.
"We've obviously gone through a lot of what we can do, but we need to look at the bigger picture as well, that development is ongoing on Bainbridge Island," Peltier said.
Some positive changes, Peltier explained, would be a revised tree ordinance that includes an arborist plan for developments, much like stormwater management plans the city now requires for projects.