Hearing examiner rejects proposed revisions to decision on Visconsi shopping center plan

Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith rejected a request to rewrite his ruling on the Visconsi shopping center after opponents of the project asked Smith to amend his decision and downplay Planning Commissioner Maradel Gale's role in writing the planning commission's report on the controversial project.

Smith approved the nearly 62,000-square-foot shopping center on High School Road on March 27. The project, proposed by Ohio-based developers Visconsi, has been bitterly opposed by many on Bainbridge Island, and a group called Islanders for Responsible Development had fought to get Smith to reject the city's environmental preview of the project and site plan.

After Smith issued his decision, Islanders for Responsible Development asked the examiner to reconsider his ruling and make multiple changes.

Opponents asked Smith to reword his decision, and said it wrongly characterized Planning Commissioner Maradel Gale as the sole person involved in writing the planning commission's recommendation on the project. The commission had unanimously asked Smith to reject the proposal.

In his decision on the request for reconsideration, issued May 5, Smith refused to rewrite his ruling.

Smith said his decision would stay as-is, and noted that Commissioner Gale was identified as the principal author of the written recommendation and appeared at the public hearing before the examiner "to both explain and vigorously defend the planning commission position," Smith wrote.

"It is uncontested that Commissioner Gale was mainly responsible for drafting the recommendation, the commission adopted it as presented, and only Commissioner Gale described and explained it at the hearing," Smith wrote. "The planning commission recommendation eventually was rejected by the hearing examiner, but that outcome depended in no way on questions of authorship or attribution."

Smith said the request to change the wording in his decision to remove Gale's name appeared to be "inconsequential."

"It adds up to nothing more than a complaint about style and emphasis. In other words, it is an effort at political spin," he wrote. "The request will be denied."

Smith did, however, agree to other changes proposed by critics of the shopping center.

He noted that some of those changes had been agreed to by the developer and would be upheld, including extending a fence along one end of the property that abuts a residential neighborhood, changing the speed limit on Polly's Lane and modifying service delivery hours.

Smith, however, rejected a proposed change that would place limits on drive-through windows at the bank and pharmacy buildings in the shopping center, and noted that any changes would have to comply with existing city regulations.

Smith also shot down a request to increase the number of parking spaces for motorcycles.

He declined to put additional restrictions into his decision that would regulate all commercial delivery vehicles that would serve the shopping center.

Smith said the request by opponents to further restrict truck traffic as a "last-minute attempt" to "move the goalposts further back."


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