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Bainbridge citizens concerned over right-of-way

The city is in the process of trading a 20-foot right-of-way east of the Chamber of Commerce to the developers of the Island Gateway project for a similar-sized right-of-way that fronts the development site on the north side of Winslow Way.

And some people don’t like it.

At the action’s third reading, which was pulled from the agenda to iron out some technical issues, 14 citizens signed up for public comment, with most of them speaking out against the project. They maligned the proposed right-of-way vacation, the public process surrounding Island Gateway and the merits of the project itself.

“That is without a doubt the most unattractive piece of architecture yet,” said former City Council candidate Virginia Paul at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The citizens implored the council not to give up the land. But it wasn’t the council’s land to give up. City Manager Mark Dombroski said Island Gateway already owned the land but the city had an easement on the property.

The strip is actually 40 feet wide, but the city would keep 10 feet, with the other 10 feet belonging to the Washington State Department of Transportation. The presence of WSDOT was partially responsible for the developer’s request to pull the agenda item because WSDOT must approve the plans before a right-of-way vacation on land bordering state property occurs. At the time of the meeting, the approval had not been completed.

Chris Picard, a WSDOT representative to the Puget Sound Regional Council’s 2040 Transportation Committee, said WSDOT only recently made contact with the developers and that it has not finished studying the potential impacts.

Bill Carruthers, one of the principals on the project, said the item was pulled because of confusion about the right-of-way on the part of the city. An appraisal, which shows that the right-of-way the city is receiving is slightly greater in value to the area it’s vacating, should help clear some concerns, he said.

The right-of-way extends north where it is bordered by more Island Gateway-owned land. The developers said the entire area would be landscaped.

With the developers’ groundbreaking date of Sept. 26 fast approaching, the public questioned why they waited so long to obtain the right-of-way.

Island Gateway could not proceed in seeking the right-of-way until it owned the all the land, a deal that wasn’t closed until Aug. 31, said Andrew Lonseth, who is a partner with Carruthers on the project.

“Clearly we applied for it as quick as we could,” he said.

Had there been an issue with securing the land, it would have been impossible for Island Gateway to accept the right-of-way, a possible result of the Sept. 9 meeting, Carruthers said.

Upcoming construction does not concern the right-of-way, so securing it was not an immediate need, the developers said.

As to the lack of a public process, the developers were surprised at the complaints of the citizenry.

At the Sept. 9 meeting, one of the principals on the Island Gateway project, Kelly Samson, attempted to address the public’s concern. He indicated that several public meetings concerning the project took place in the past. It went through the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission before finally making its way to the planning director for approval.

“I don’t know where those comments come from because there is a very prescribed process that we followed,” Lonseth said.

The project was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission on July 9, following a public hearing in which no one spoke out against the project. On July 18, Planning Director Kathy Cook gave final approval on the project.

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