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UPDATE | Bainbridge activists plan boycott against shopping center

Ron Peltier and Charles Schmid explain to fellow activists the next steps for supporting responsible development on Bainbridge Island. - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
Ron Peltier and Charles Schmid explain to fellow activists the next steps for supporting responsible development on Bainbridge Island.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

Opponents to the proposed shopping center on High School Road are now pledging to boycott the recently approved development.

Activists are currently circulating a pledge to avoid patronizing stores or businesses in the retail center for at least seven years after it is constructed.

The commitment to stage a boycott came after several citizens met last week to discuss their next steps following the city’s decision to approve the controversial development.

“We can just say, ‘Well, we lost,’ but what we really want to figure out is how do we go on,” said Charles Schmid.

Visconsi, an Ohio-based developer, is moving forward with plans to build a nearly 62,000-square-foot shopping center on High School Road directly across from the Ace Hardware store.

The proposal includes space for retail, restaurants, professional services and health care facilities.

The proposal was strongly opposed by residents of the nearby Stonecrest neighborhood and others across Bainbridge, who said the commercial development would bring increased traffic and other problems to the High School Road-Highway 305 area. Opponents also said the new businesses were not needed and would compete with existing businesses on the island.

The project, however, was given the green light by city planning staff, who said the proposal fit with zoning and city regulations. Though it was later rejected by the planning commission, the city’s hearing examiner agreed with city planners that the project did not violate city standards or regulations and approved the project in March.

Opponents considered launching a boycott after the hearing examiner’s decision was issued, but talk of a boycott died down until last week’s meeting.

The meeting was hosted by Ron Peltier of Islanders for Responsible Development, the grassroots group that appealed the environmental review for the Visconsi project and asked the hearing examiner to shoot down the plans for the new commercial center.

A group of about 20 citizens met in a study room at the Bainbridge Public Library to go over how citizens can continue to promote environmental preservation on Bainbridge despite the city’s decision to approve the Visconsi development.

“We would like to see the update of the Comprehensive Plan also include updates to the municipal code, because what good is the Comprehensive Plan if the municipal code doesn’t implement it,” said Debbie Vann.

“We have all these nice statements about preserving our forests and protecting our environment and sustainability and economic viability and yet they’re not seen in our municipal code,” she said.

Peltier added that the planning commission’s recommendation to reject the Visconsi development exemplifies the power of community involvement.

“Citizens who take the time to inform themselves can be very effective in changing the course of events when it comes to things like this,” Peltier said.

While the city has not yet announced the process for public participation, the group agreed there will have to be consistent citizen contribution on all fronts of the comp plan update, including during the planning commission’s portion of the work and on any ad hoc committees devoted to the update.

This wasn’t the only conclusion of the meeting.

Several residents at the gathering decided a boycott would be the next logical step for opposing the Visconsi shopping center.

“Right now there are lots of baby animals out there in those woods that they’re going to start chopping down,” said Kent Bridwell.

“The idea is if we can get this off the ground, get it widely publicized, it may scare enough potential renters there that they’re not going to want to do it.”

Without interested tenants, Bridwell said, the developer will have no choice but to rethink building on Bainbridge.

“It may be a long shot, but I’m hoping that this will take form and start to steamroll and maybe have some impact,” Bridwell said.

Bridwell did not have to convince many people to join the cause.

He was met with a buzz of excitement in the room.

One resident chimed in: “What about even garnering more interest by chaining ourselves to the bulldozer before it goes in and making sure the press is there?”

The group of activists, later dubbed Stop Unwanted Development on Bainbridge Island, rallied together after the meeting and have begun distributing a written pledge that calls for residents to avoid giving business to any commercial establishments in the shopping center.

The pledge states, “I publicly pledge to not patronize any business or commercial establishment that occupies space within the KeyBank/Visconsi development, or which contributes to its construction, at least through and including the year 2021.”

The pledge focuses on the potential negative impacts on local traffic, wildlife and air quality from the new commercial center next to Highway 305.

“In addition, this development violates several express goals and policies of the Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan and is simply unwanted by Island residents.”

Bridwell, who is heading the group, is now asking those who are interested in participating in the boycott to email sudobi.02@gmail.com.

At the end of last week’s meeting, Peltier explained that as a separate group Islander’s for Responsible Development will be focusing on getting people engaged in updating the comp plan.

“The cornerstones of that (comp plan) are sustainability, preserving the character of the island, recognizing the island has a limited carrying capacity,” Peltier said.

“I think ultimately Bainbridge Islanders who are dissatisfied with the city, that are alarmed about things that are happening, they need to look at themselves and get involved ... interact with their city officials, and not just expect somebody else do it,” he said.

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