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Debate ends on Winslow sidewalks

The Bainbridge Island City Council considers outdoor retail and cafes on downtown Winslow sidewalks. The council decided in a 4-3 vote Monday to adopt a  permitting process  and require shop owners to maintain a five-foot clearance for pedestrian traffic in front of storefronts.  - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
The Bainbridge Island City Council considers outdoor retail and cafes on downtown Winslow sidewalks. The council decided in a 4-3 vote Monday to adopt a permitting process and require shop owners to maintain a five-foot clearance for pedestrian traffic in front of storefronts.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

The debate over outdoor retail on downtown Winslow sidewalks has come to an end.

In a narrow 4-3 vote, the Bainbridge Island City Council decided Monday to require shop owners clear a five-foot pathway for foot traffic outside storefronts.

“I’d just like to point out that when we started this process, we recognized that what we’re trying to do is to strike a balance between encouraging something that contributes to a vibrant downtown and not unduly impacting the public use of the sidewalk,” said Councilman Val Tollefson.

City staff asked the council earlier this year for policy direction on how to open Winslow’s sidewalks for more pedestrian flow amidst outdoor cafes and merchandise displays.

The request came in response to scattered complaints submitted to the city over the past year.

At the council’s direction, city staff have since written an ordinance that supports business on Bainbridge Island as-is.

One exception: Business owners who want to utilize sidewalk space in the downtown area will now be required to fill out an application and pay an annual permit fee.

In the application, the shop owners will be asked to detail the amount of outdoor furniture that will be placed outside the store front. The permit application also requires merchants to identify the hours when the sidewalks will be used by the business and where the furniture will be placed.

As part of the permitting process, the shop owners must arrange displays and cafe seating to maintain a five-foot open sidewalk for pedestrians.

Despite the new fee and application, shop owners have responded positively to the new ordinance.

Brendan McGill of Hitchcock Deli and Restaurant said it would relieve a lot of uncertainty surrounding the way he serves customers outdoors. It would provide some long-needed guidance on how he can improve the layout of his outdoor cafe, he told City Manager Doug Schulze during a meeting with other business owners.

With the new permitting application taking shape, McGill recently updated the outdoor seating at Hitchcock with small two-person tables that provide more open space for passersby.

The decision to adopt the ordinance was postponed late last month, though, when the council directed staff to study the potential of widening the pathway requirement to six feet as opposed to the standard five feet.

If possible, increasing the clearance to six feet, the council agreed, would allow more sidewalk accessibility amidst car bumpers that overhang at the curbside.

Schulze came back to the council Monday and advised that because the sidewalk fluctuates in width throughout Winslow, there are a few spots where six feet would not be possible.

Permanent fixtures such as the concrete bench outside Blackbird Bakery and the storefront corner of Bon Bon Confections leave just enough room for five feet.

Additionally, Schulze said, utility poles would make it difficult to maintain a six-foot standard in some areas.

Schulze’s news punctuated another speaker during Monday’s meeting.

One resident told the council that despite federal handicap accessibility standards, five feet just wasn’t enough for her motorized wheelchair.

“I have to say that I cannot turn in a five-foot space,” said Laurie Depew.

“I can drive in and back out, but I cannot turn in it. Normally, when I’m downtown I’m usually with one of my kids or my sister or somebody, and they cannot walk next to me if it’s narrower than six feet.”

Councilman Dave Ward agreed that six feet should be the standard.

“If we want five feet, we’re going to have to ask for six feet because there will be a constant creep into that space,” Ward said.

Ward added that it’s important the council pay attention to residents like Depew and her personal challenges maneuvering in the five-foot space.

Ward was in the minority, though.

The ordinance passed on a 4-3 vote to require a five-foot clearance on Winslow’s sidewalks. Council members Ward, Anne Blair and Sarah Blossom were opposed.

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