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Next part of Grow community gets bad review, but still gets thumbs up

Marja Preston of Asani — the developers behind Grow Community — explains the second phase of the housing project to the city’s planning commission.  - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
Marja Preston of Asani — the developers behind Grow Community — explains the second phase of the housing project to the city’s planning commission.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

The second phase of development for Grow Community received a thumbs up from the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission Thursday.

But it didn’t come without at least one dissenting response to the architect’s choice of design, one that will take the second portion of Grow in a new direction from the cottage-esque village of phase one.

“I just want you to know that this feels like bait-and-switch to me in a lot of ways from what we had originally approved,” said Commissioner Maradel Gale.

In the first portion of the second phase, “The Grove” will include a densely wooded courtyard bordered by single-level flats along Wyatt Way and multi-level townhomes located behind completed phase one of the project (“The Village”).

Single-family homes will border the northern side of the second portion of phase two, called “The Park.”

While single-level flats will be developed where John Adams Way is today, townhomes will again be constructed along the edge of The Village.

At the southern end of the development along Shepard Drive will be single-family homes and a commercial space.

The space is anticipated to house either a childcare or health center.

Connecting this second portion of phase two together, will be a large quad at the center of The Park with a community center and community garden.

Each building of phase two will also have an underground parking garage with elevators, said Jim Cutler of Cutler Anderson Architects.

The second phase is anticipated to be a multi-year project.

A 12-month development period will likely complete The Grove, said Jeff Sharp of Asani, the developing company behind the housing project.

In the meantime, temporary trails will be set up for residents to walk across the development into town.

Since the design has taken shape, the second phase has received some criticism that multi-story townhomes and condos do not blend well with the single-family houses constructed in phase one of the project.

“As we designed this community, we spent a lot of time in asking people, ‘If you could create a perfect neighborhood, what would it look like?’” said Marja Preston of Asani.

Preston said she heard a lot from people that accessibility to town and the ferry, a safe place for children, and a neighborly community were all important aspects to living.

She and the sales team also heard, however, that an intergenerational community is equally important.

“What we heard over and over again was that people were interested in this concept of aging in community,” Preston said.

“The result is a design that meets the needs of people of all ages. People who are 3 years old and people who are 83 years old often need the same kind of physical environment.”

Sixty percent of the homes are completely handicap accessible, Preston noted.

While three acres of the five-acre site is green space, Preston added, accessible trails connect the neighborhood across the courtyards, to the community center and to the doors of many of the homes.

In addition, although the design provides ample green space and defines itself as community living, at the center of all of Cutler’s designs, he said, is to provide his homes with the opportunity to engage in community and privacy at the resident’s preference.

The homes will have private gardens and balconies in addition to the community spaces.

With this, residents will have the option of opening their gate to the larger neighborhood.

“The main difference between these two projects (phase one and two) is that we have aggregated public space, so that public space is genuinely public and simultaneously provided a higher level of privacy,” Cutler said.

“Both opportunities exist.”

This idea though, Gale said, is a far cry from community. She called the design “Bainbridge Island state penitentiary with two exercise yards.”

“Here’s what I heard tonight: We’re going to have people driving into their private garages, going up their private indoor stairways, sitting on their private balconies in their underwear,” Gale said. “And I don’t get where there’s any community there.”

Gale continued that while Asani developers have said the courtyards will be a communal space, she does not believe it will be used as frequently as they say since phase one of the community would be cut off by multi-level townhomes.

“If you’re a parent over there, your kids are going to disappear through the knuckle, and you’re not going to be able to see what they’re doing,” Gale said.

Bill Carruthers, the founding principal of Asani and a part-owner of Grow Community, explained that in the first phase of development, more time and resources were spent on establishing a zero waste neighborhood then designing innovative community living.

When met with a high demand for homes, they knew they were on to something, he said, but it was no longer financially viable to build another “Village” and not bring in a variety of housing options.

As for privacy versus community, he said, when he and his wife move into the development they aren’t going to suddenly become reclusive.

“That’s true with everyone else that moves in,” Carruthers said.

“It’s not going to force a change in behavior, but it’s going to give us a chance to live downtown in the community we live, in a way that’s comfortable and can be maintained over years, so we don’t end up in a nursing home.”

Cutler further added that he recognizes he is a different architect, and that there are additional goals associated with this phase of the development, including making it financially feasible.

He stressed that it is important that privacy and community space work together.

“Human beings — in my experience in having done an excess of 300 residences, two-thirds of which were award-winning buildings — in my experience, people want to connect to one another but they also want to be able to withdraw,” Cutler said.

“Both should be given in any residence. Any residence should have both the opportunity to connect to the broad community, but also to withdraw in privacy to have that drama that goes on in your family.”

The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the approval of the second phase of the project.

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