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Bainbridge may declare Suzuki property as surplus land
The nearly 14-year debate over what to do with 14-acres of city-owned land may soon come to a close.
In an effort to finally knock the dust off the discussion, the Bainbridge Island City Council revisited the subject of the Suzuki property Monday by asking city staff to draft a new surplus resolution that will get the acreage sold.
“We can do it in a variety of different ways,” said Mayor Anne Blair.
“The first step seems to be if we’re interested in whether we want to continue owning the property. This is the beginning of a decision tree.”
What was originally purchased to be the site of a combined police-courthouse facility, the Suzuki property was shelved in 2008 after city officials and citizens spent several years studying potential uses for the property.
In that time, the council has considered whether to surplus the land to help fund a new police facility, use it to build more affordable housing on Bainbridge, or negotiate a plan to do both.
To surplus the acreage, which sits on the corner of New Brooklyn Road and Sportsman Club Road, the city would undergo a month-long process involving a public hearing, appraisal and advertising the land.
The city would also have the opportunity to develop selling options that will promise the highest return for the sale, by way of monetary value and potential uses.
Attorney weighs in
City Attorney Lisa Marshall told the council Monday that if the council decides to change its mind and lease the land after it’s already declared surplus, the city will have until the deal is closed on a sale to revoke the resolution.
Once the acreage is sold, it belongs to the buyer and the city will have little say on how it’s developed.
If the council decides to lease the property instead, it could potentially negotiate an agreement with a nonprofit to use the property for a specific purpose.
This route, though, would necessitate a different process.
Typically if a city wants to partner with a private group like a nonprofit, Marshall said, the city would hire a third party to establish a plan for developing the property.
In addition, there may be some restrictions for a lease agreement with a commercial interest, she said.
The council agreed by general consensus Monday that getting the train moving on surplussing the property would be the best first step to finding a use for the land.
From there, it can deliberate how it’s done, who the land is sold to and where the money will go afterward.
“I don’t like the idea at all of the city being in the development business,” Blair said.
“That’s my reason for definitely supporting the idea of surplussing,” she said.
Councilman David Ward said that surplussing it would give the city the best opportunity for added funds to help build a new police station since that was why the property was purchased earlier.
Funding a new police station has been on the city council’s radar in recent months as the city is currently undergoing several site studies to start the design process for a potential combined public facility or stand-alone police station.
Ward added that the profits from selling the land could be a plus for any city project.
“I’m less enamored with making sure it (profits) goes to the police station than I am with making sure it goes to a capital need and reduces our need to bond,” Ward said.
“As long as it goes to reduce capital expenditure.”
Since the Suzuki property has called on a significant amount of public process in the past, several members also expressed that opportunity for community input should not be skipped this time around either.
Land has long history
The site was originally purchased in April 2000 to build a decant facility and combined police-court facility.
Neighbors objected the proposal, however, and the city council decided to reexamine the use of the property.
Since then, city officials have gone back and forth on whether it should partner with the Housing Resources Board to build more affordable housing on the site or to surplus it.
Citizen task groups were formed, a number of proposals for affordable housing were presented, recommendations were made, but no council action has ever been taken.
The property was shelved in 2008 despite a recommendation to create a sales process based on a point system that gives more weight to proposals that meet community goals and incorporate affordable housing.
More public input desired
Six years later, Councilman Val Tollefson said the community’s voice can’t fade away.
“I just hate to have us go ahead with this surplus process, moving right in with all the momentum into an RFP (request for proposals) and a sales property without any community input,” said Councilman Val Tollefson.
“We have not had any community input on what the community wants us to do in 2014 or 2015,” he said.
Tollefson suggested that the council discuss the merits of a potential public workshop, much like the one conducted for Waterfront Park, that could take place before the council moves too far into the process.
“The kind of community input that we get when we have a public hearing is community input on something we usually have already largely made up our minds and have to be dissuaded about,” Tollefson said.
“People are taxpayers and know that these various things have to be funded. I personally would like to hear them,” he said.
A public workshop and community input is guaranteed to bring up the question of constructing affordable housing on the Suzuki property.
Some wary of housing
Councilwoman Sarah Blossom noted that placing housing on the acreage could result in higher taxes for the larger community.
“When you choose to sell a property at a reduced price and therefore put yourself in a position where you have to bond for more, there are other people that you are also affecting,” Blossom said.
“Every little bump, every little figure adds up and you have a whole other class of people that you’re hurting,” she said.
Misconception of HRB
During public comment, Mark Blatter, executive director of the Housing Resources Board, responded to Blossom’s comment.
“There seems to be an assumption in her mind, and maybe others, is that all HRB does is produce low-income housing,” Blatter said.
“In fact, our home ownership model is low- and middle-income housing... A whole range of people cannot afford housing on Bainbridge Island,” he said.
Former councilwoman Debbi Lester also supported bringing more affordable housing to Bainbridge.
“We have agencies, Housing Resources Board, Housing Kitsap and Kitsap Transit, all of which can possibly collaborate and apply for grant opportunities,” Lester said.
In addition, she said, Bainbridge is not new when it comes to leasing city land to nonprofits.
There are leases with Bainbridge Performing Arts, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, the Bainbridge Island Waterfront Park Community Center and Bainbridge Island Rowing, she said.
“So it is my hope that you will open up to have a larger community conversation and have creative ways to look at this land,” Lester said.
With the ball rolling in at least one direction, the council will have a process to work from as it decides what to do with the acreage.
City staff will return later this month with a draft resolution to surplus the property.