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Bainbridge council holds off on sidewalk retail vote

After what seemed to be a smooth transition to adopt a permit process for sidewalk retail in downtown Winslow, the Bainbridge Island City Council has decided to hold off on approving the ordinance until more study is done.

The council asked the city’s public works staff Tuesday to determine the impacts to increasing the area on Winslow’s sidewalks for pedestrians to six feet of space, an increase from the earlier idea of a five-foot minimum space beyond where merchants place outdoor dining areas and retail racks.

Widening the pathway for pedestrians to six feet, the council noted, would allow more accessibility amidst car bumpers that overhang at the curbside.

“This would be an opportunity for the public works department to work with the cafe owner and look at the circumstances that they’re faced with,” said Councilman Val Tollefson.

Earlier this year, city staff asked the council for policy direction to maintain Winslow’s pedestrian flow amidst outdoor cafes and merchandise displays. The request came amid scattered complaints about crowded downtown sidewalks in Winslow.

The council and city staff have since taken an approach that supports business on Bainbridge Island. City Manager Doug Schulze met with shop owners this month to explain the draft ordinance.

As it is currently written, business owners who want to utilize sidewalk space in the downtown area would be required to pay an annual permit fee.

In addition, to enforce a five-foot clearance for sidewalk use, the city would also require shop owners to specify the amount of outdoor furniture and retail racks that will be outside, as well as identify hours when the sidewalks will be used and where the furniture will be placed.

Business owners have responded positively to the new process.

Brendan McGill of Hitchcock Deli and Restaurant said it will relieve a lot of the uncertainty surrounding the use of city sidewalks, and provide guidance on how he can improve the layout of his outdoor dining area.

Other business owners were happy to hear that the city would be working with them on making Winslow’s sidewalks more accessible.

The council agreed on more wait time for the ordinance, however, after hearing from a mixed bag of public comments at Tuesday’s meeting.

One citizen asked that the city think carefully about the amount of pathway clearance it will require.

“Right now your minimum is going to be a maximum,” said Chuck Depew.

“Because once you let somebody in there with a five-foot minimum distance, that’s going to be your standard.”

Depew explained that his wife uses a wheelchair and he’s concerned about her ability to maneuver through downtown.

While five feet is the minimum for handicap accessibility, he said, he is often required to used Winslow’s sidewalks up to the curb line.

With the amount of car bumpers that overhang on the sidewalk in addition to outdoor retail, he said, the city should rethink the five-foot requirement.

“I don’t think that’s really enhancing,” Depew said.

Other residents warned the council against implementing too many restrictions on Winslow businesses.

“Street fronts have evolved over time to what they are, and they’re kind of at this peak of vibrancy,” said Ben Doerr.

Doerr said that as long as handicap accessibility is met, outdoor business should continue as it has over the past few years.

“The best communities all over the world have outdoor seating at restaurants and outdoor displays at stores,” Doerr said.

“Sidewalk charm is one of the big things we have going for us now.”

Following the comments, Councilwoman Sarah Blossom suggested that the city consider widening the pathway requirement.

“We know that parking’s a problem downtown,” Blossom said.

“So you can assume there’s always going to be overhangs, there’s always going to be cars. So why don’t we widen the five feet?”

By a general consensus, the council agreed to hold off on voting on the draft ordinance until staff has the opportunity to explore the suggested change.

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