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Rolling Bay parking causes neighborhood friction

CJ Riley is an islander who has worked at Bainbridge Island Taxi for six years.  - Brad Camp/ Staff Photo
CJ Riley is an islander who has worked at Bainbridge Island Taxi for six years.
— image credit: Brad Camp/ Staff Photo

Debate centers on the definition of a Neighborhood Service Center.

Rolling Bay is changing.

At a slower pace than fellow Neighborhood Service Centers (NSC) Lynwood Center and Island Center, but changing nonetheless.

A recent flurry of new business arrivals and relocations such as Bainbridge Island Taxi, Peacock Playtime and The Creativity Center to the area, and remodeling at Rolling Bay Automotive over the last year, has brought an economic spark to the north-end business hub.

It has also upset some local residents who believe the character of the neighborhood is being adversely affected.

A group of 35 locals, calling themselves the Rolling Bay Neighborhood Association (RBNA), have been challenging city decisions and NSC zoning guidelines that allow for the taxi company (a Rolling Bay resident since July 2008) to lease land near the corner of Sunrise Drive and Valley Road, and for Rolling Bay Automotive to lease a piece of private property to park cars. Both lots are on property owned by Soon Hong, who runs the Rolling Bay Jiffy Mart.

“So far it is all civil,” said Rian Myers of Rolling Bay’s Myers Biodynamics. “We’re all cheering for everyone’s business success, but we do have some situations that have yet to be addressed.”

At the heart of the issue is the city’s definition of a Neighborhood Service Center and what services can be provided within the NSC zoning area.

The Bainbridge Island comprehensive plan describes NSCs as “areas with small-scale, Island-wide, commercial, mixed-use and residential development outside Winslow.” It also singles out businesses that offer personal services as being compatible with NSC zoning.

But the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code does not specifically define whether a taxi service is considered a personal service. It was the lack of a clear definition that started the neighborhood spat.

In response to complaints, the city reviewed its code and issued an administrative decision last year that defined taxis as a personal service, and therefore able to exist in the Rolling Bay NSC. That sparked the ire of the RBNA.

“(The taxi service) is perceived by those in the neighborhood to be inconsistent with what a neighborhood service center should be,” said Jim Kennedy. “It’s more a legal question as to whether a taxi service is realistically a personal service.”

Kennedy, a retired attorney and a real estate agent on the island, has been one of those spearheading the issue for RBNA.

“My main concern is code compliance,” he said. “The taxi company essentially provides no services within the service center. If you allow this type of operation, then you allow plumbers or electricians, to lease space, provide no services in the area and use the space to justify parking equipment on site. It would be the end of the neighborhood service center as we know it.”

Tim and Jana Wilkins, Bainbridge Island Taxi owners and Rolling Bay residents, believe that concern is unfounded.

“There is some rumor that we would have 30 cars and giant buses parked out here, and it would become a storage area,” Jana Wilkins said. “But that is not the case.”

In the city’s administrative decision, officials concluded that no more than 11 taxis could be accommodated on the site. It also barred buses and trucks in the area and called for the creation of a natural screen (trees) to preserve the aesthetics of the area.

It is those aesthetics that seem to be disturbing RBNA members who are concerned about the impact of car-heavy businesses on the value of their properties.

“The amount of cars is excessive, (and) it’s changed the character of the neighborhood and turned it into an industrial site,” said a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous. “Let’s be real here; this has seriously affected the taxes and property value in the area. Property values have gone down. We feel upset that we have to allow this visual pollution to the community.”

Wilkins believes it is sentiments like these that have turned the debate decidedly more bitter.

“Our feeling is that this opposition is discriminatory,” Wilkins said. “To me, it’s a typical example of ‘not in my back yard.’ This is a service that needs to be on the island and it belongs where we are. Any business that would be here would need places for employees to park. We’re no different.”

Local residents have also raised issue with razor wire and tire storage at Rolling Bay Automotive, neither of which has been considered a danger or a violation of city code, according to city code compliance officers.

Another issue is drainage from the automotive business into neighboring properties, including Myers Biodynamics. That issue is likely to be resolved as soon as the city upgrades its drainage system along Valley Road, city officials said.

However, community members have also targeted the use of the part of Hong’s property – adjacent to the taxi company’s parking area – used by Rolling Bay Automotive for parking cars being serviced at the business. RBHA members said that the city code does not allow for one business to pay for parking on another parcel of land.

According to Ranji Dhatt, the owner of Rolling Bay Automotive, the business has been using the lot with the approval of the city since it began its remodel which is all but finished except for an exterior coat of paint.

“I’ve been fighting a lot of battles relating to a simple remodel on my property,” Dhatt said. “Now, somehow I’ve gotten lumped in this larger argument.”

City Planning Director Kathy Cook said there was never a formal agreement between Rolling Bay Automotive and city on the secondary lot.

“Our intent upon completion (of the remodel) is that the overflow parking will no longer be in the second lot,” Cook said.

The issues surrounding what is allowed in the NSC continues to perplex and compel many in the area. CJ Riley, who has been driving a taxi for six years, believes the debate over NSC definition should be an open-and-shut case.

“Speaking as a former architect who has dealt with zoning, it’s silly,” he said. “There is nothing more personal than a car coming to your door and taking you where you want to go – short of a massage I guess. I’m feeling useful and I feel I am providing a service that is critical to the island.”

While Kennedy doesn’t dispute that, he feels the service can be relocated to a more industrial area.

“It’s my opinion, taxi’s belong elsewhere,” Kennedy said. “But the hearing examiner will have to make that decision.”

The city hearing examiner has decided to allow a March 13 appeal of the city’s decision to define taxis as a personal service.

However, Cook said a decision against the planning department’s code interpretation for taxis would leave Bainbridge Island Taxi in limbo.

As it stands now, the definition of the taxi company as a personal service would allow the company to operate in many areas, including other service centers and all of the mixed-use downtown area, but not in light-industrial areas.

While the definition of the taxi company as a personal service gives Bainbridge Island Taxi more location options, the problem, Jim Wilkins believes, is where the business could be that wouldn’t provoke some sort of community reaction.

“The question is where else would we go,” he said. “We would have opposition whereever we went and we’ve invested a lot of money and effort here.”

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