“Poll favors open space levy Support for a$7 million bond issue is at 63 percent, a survey says. “

  • Thu Apr 12th, 2001 3:00am
  • News

“Preservation of open space tests positively in a Bainbridge Island public-opinion survey.So positively, in fact, that Mayor Dwight Sutton is considering upping the ante on a bond issue to acquire open land from $5 million to $7 million, or even higher.The poll, showed that 58 percent of the people would support a $10 million bond issue, Sutton said. For a $7 million issue, support was 63 percent, and it was even higher for a $5 million issue.The telephone survey of 350 houses, – commissioned by the city March 14 at a cost of $15,000 – was conducted April 6-8 by a polling organization working for the Trust for Public Lands. Results were announced at a Sunday meeting of island groups involved in land preservation. The complete poll questions and responses were not available for review at press time.Sutton had earlier talked about a $5 million bond issue for land preservation, saying he would like to see it go before Bainbridge voters before the end of the year.Such a levy would need 60 percent voter approval to pass.An ad hoc citizen committee appointed by Sutton is looking at the issue. Preliminary figures suggest that a $10 million bond issue would add $60-75 per year to the property taxes on a $250,000 house. After seeing the poll results, the mayor said it might make sense to aim higher.Other poll results indicated that the time is ripe for such a bond issue, Sutton said.The consensus was that now is the time. Things are only going to get more expensive, he said.One potential acquisition that could involve the bond money is a 15-acre parcel of the Johnson family orchard on Fletcher Bay Road, near the intersection with Island Center Road, Sutton said.The Trust for Public Lands, a national preservation organization, now holds an option on that property and has offered it to the newly formed Bainbridge Island Community Land Trust. The concept is that it would own the land in trust, then lease it for uses such as low-income housing and farming.The Community Land Trust group has been discussing potential uses, with a formal announcement pending, sources said this week.That property is a possibility for the bond, Sutton said. People might say gee whiz, let’s get it.The strength of support for open-space preservation was surprising, Sutton said, because the need is not well understood.One question asked was whether the city has enough money for open-space preservation, whether it needs more or whether the respondent did not know. Sutton said each of the three possible answers received essentially identical responses.That indicates that a lot of education needs to take place, he said, indicating that support might be greater if people understood the degree of need.Sutton is aiming at having a bond issue on the November ballot. The next step, he said, is to meet with organizations interested in land preservation in the next few weeks.We need to generate a common perception that now is the time, Sutton said, then let them generate a program to sell this to the community.Fields firstTwo findings that Sutton found somewhat surprising involved the kind of open space people wanted. Support was somewhat stronger for land preserved as simply open space – forests and fields, Sutton said – than for active-recreation areas like ball fields.And the survey found that support did not diminish even if people were told that there might be restrictions on public access to some lands, such as farm land.The poll showed that overall, residents are happy with the quality of life on the island. A full 43 percent of respondents said the island is a great place to live, while 45 percent called it a good place, and fewer than 5 percent called it not good or difficult.When people were asked an open-ended question about the island’s biggest problem, more than half responded that growth, development or sprawl topped the list.That surprised the poll-takers, Sutton said. Usually, responses are all over the map.And when people were asked whether Bainbridge is growing too fast, about right or too slowly, almost 60 percent said too fast, compared to only 1 percent that said too slowly, Sutton said.The mayor said he hopes those attitudes can be translated into support for the land-acquisition bond.The ground is fertile, but people need to be given more information on how acquiring land for open space will help in the battle with growth, development and sprawl, he said. People need to see what they would be getting for the money, how far it would go and how little it would cost them. “