Bainbridge citizens sue city over Island Gateway

A group of island residents calling themselves “Friends of Bainbridge Island” have filed a lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court against the city and Island Gateway LLC over the city’s decision to vacate a 20-foot-wide right-of-way near the intersection of Winslow Way and State Route 305 as a part of the Island Gateway development process.

Annette Skinner and Charles Schmid, the two islanders taking the lead for the small group, said Thursday that they are not against the project itself. They are concerned only with the two southern-most sections of the property, where the vacated strip of road on the west side of SR-305 lies.

The northern section of the project, which is currently under construction and will be the home of the Children’s Discovery Museum, is not a part of the suit.

“I want to emphasize that this is only about the taking of part of our highway,” Skinner said. “I’ve been very reluctant and torn to do this. But it’s important.”

Calls to the city attorney requesting comment on the lawsuit were not returned.

The right-of-way vacation was granted at the Oct. 14 City Council meeting by a five-to-one margin. Councilor Bill Knobloch voted against the vacation and Debbie Vancil and Kim Brackett abstained from the vote.

The issue elicited many comments from citizens both supporting and disagreeing with the project.

The majority of comments at the meetings were in favor of the project, while some, Skinner and Schmid included, spoke out against the vacation. The right-of-way issue was pulled from the Sept. 9 agenda because of what the developers cited as confusion over the proposed vacation.

It then went back to the Public Works and Transportation Committee on Oct. 5, where the three-member committee sent it back to council with a change to the ordinance to say “this vacation will better serve the public and be more useful to the public as provided in Municipal Code Section 12.34.110.”

The group, which registered as a nonprofit organization with the state, contends that the City Council made its decision without considering the impact the vacation, and the subsequent development project, would have on future plans for the highway and a possible regional trail development, the value of the piece of land the city will receive in return and the environmental impact of the exchange.

Because of the placing of a business on the east border of SR-305 many years ago and the recent city-approved vacation, the last quarter-mile of SR-305 has narrowed from 190 feet to 142 feet. The suit’s plaintiffs believe that the future of the critical part of the road at the island’s busiest intersection should have been studied more thoroughly.

The group is seeking a writ of certiorari, an order from a higher court to reverse a decision made at a lower level, on the council’s decision to vacate the right-of-way.

“What we want is for it to go back to the council so it can look at the facts and implications the vacation has on future generations,” Skinner said. “The analysis was not thorough enough for such an important strip of land, considering that the city ended up transferring a public benefit to a private owner.”

Skinner believes the lawsuit has standing because of what she describes as “a lack of record” representing due diligence by the public entities involved.

“Where was the analysis from DOT, Kitsap County Transit, State Ferries and the city? They all signed off on it, but there is no indication that any of them looked into the future to see if the right-of-way should remain public because of its importance going forward,” Skinner said. “Neither the city or Washington State Ferries or Kitsap County Transit or DOT took a real good look at it.”

This is how Schmid put it in: “It is our opinion there was insufficient documentation on the potential impacts to traffic congestion, bike access, and future cost to make a proper decision to vacate the city’s right of way. In essence, the benefits for the public were overruled and overlooked by the majority of the council in favor of private use. Our decision to appeal was not made lightly, but has in mind the future needs of the residents of our island, as well as those drivers and bicyclists who traverse it.”

The project includes a large, 35-foot-high art museum that will be built abutting the 10-foot-wide right-of-way the city has vacated.

“Once that building is there,” Schmid said, “there will be no going back. If more space is need by the city and the state, they’ll have to get it from somewhere else in that intersection. That’s why we think we should take another look at it.”

The project began its public process back in April when it went through five Design Review Board meetings. The project made it through the Design Review Board with an unanimous vote on June 29, with one member of the board abstaining.

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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