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Island Gateway wins right-of-way suit brought by Friends of Bainbridge
A Kitsap Superior Court judge ruled against the Friends of Bainbridge Island, a group suing the Island Gateway project and the city, in its attempt to reverse a City Council decision to vacate a street right-of-way in October.
Judge Anna M. Laurie ruled Friday that the group, and the public, did not have standing, the ability to object to a right-of-way vacation, and even if it did, the council's legislative decision could not be shown to be "arbitrary and capricious."
"None of what the judge said surprised us," said Andrew Lonseth, one of the principals on the project. "We see it as a significant waste of resources; the city's resources, our resources and even the petitioners'."
Charles Schmid, one of the three governing officers of the nonprofit group (including Annette Skinner and Virgnia Paul) that sued the project and city, called the ruling disappointing.
Schmid said the group is waiting to see and review the published opinion from the judge before deciding whether or not to appeal.
Schmid disagreed with the judge's ruling that only the abutting property owners, Island Gateway, could object, saying that such a well-used area should be subject to public review.
"Anyone who uses that intersection (State Route 305 and Winslow Way) should have standing because of all the congestion there."
The group's attorney, David Mann, argued the same point.
"Where's the review authority if its left to the abutting owners?" he asked the court. "There's just one abutting owner, the applicant... If the only people who can challenge the council are the landowners who made the application, then they can do whatever they want," he said.
Gateway and the state Department of Transportation own the property abutting the right-of-way.
Attorneys for the city and Gateway asserted that it is not the court's job to overrule a policy created by a legislative body because some people disagree.
"If the courts could do that, your dockets would be full with people who don't like decisions made by their cities," Gateway attorney Scott Smith told the court.
The city and Gateway argued that prior cases show a very limited role on the part of the court following a legislative decision. For the court to intervene, said decision would have to be shown to either be illegal, or capricious and arbitrary (ignoring, or not consulting the facts).
Furthermore, the council didn't overstep its legislative boundaries, they argued.
"If the city were to vote to vacate a street in the City of Poulsbo, they couldn't do that; if they were going to raise the prices of the ferries, they couldn't do that," Smith said.
Schmid said the city and Gateway failed to address the issue of future uses, one of the group's primary claims in its initial complaint.
"The City Council failed to fully inquire into, or consider whether, conditions in the future, including transit and planned regional trail construction would result in a greater use or need for the existing right-of-way," the complaint said.
Construction on the Gateway project continues on schedule, Lonseth said. The steel frame for the Kids Discovery Museum is only days away from completion, with a goal of moving the local institution in by May or June.
Excavation of land for the underground parking area is scheduled to begin next week, Lonseth said.
During the construction, workers have collected material to be used as backfill. All unusable materials are being taken to a site off-island, Lonseth said.
Lonseth said that if all goes well construction could be finished approximately a year from now.
The right-of-way vacation in question 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.”