New development offers unique experience | Guest Column | May 27

Ferncliff Village, the six-acre development within walking distance of the ferry and downtown Winslow, will soon break ground.

The project is a game changer as it aims to give low- and moderate-income families a chance to be homeowners of houses starting under $200,000 – something that few have thought possible on Bainbridge Island up until now.The island’s non-profit has worked hard to bring this project off the drawing board.

A complex city-approval process, staff and board turnover, scarce funding and a recession centered on the housing industry have all made the project difficult to complete. Some have called it impossible. Now we are at the threshold of a new possibility. With construction imminent, HRB has 13 interested families and more showing interest every day.

The funding, builder/design team and permits are ready to launch. Bainbridge Island families have raised $235,000 and we are just beginning the public fundraising phase for the last $15,000. The land has been donated and we have grants in place to build roads, utilities and landscaping.

The credit for making this project possible goes largely to a long list of current and former staff and board members and many generous and committed local families.

There were difficulties, but we as a community can rightfully applaud our fellow citizens who make up the board, staff, volunteer and donor base of HRB. They put their hearts into Ferncliff Village over the last four years. Through their efforts we are on the verge of producing something to be proud of and will serve to make our island home stronger.

Ferncliff Village stands to be a trendsetter from an environmental, community, social justice and economic perspective. For those looking for a post-consumption model of thoughtful development, it serves as a mixed-income, affordable and environmentally sensitive example.

When built out, we expect this to be one of the most livable neighborhoods on the island:

• The small-house footprints are 11 percent of the site compared to an allowed 25 percent of the site.

• We have preserved 40 percent of the land in open space and 32 percent of the tree canopy.

• The landscaping, tilted toward native, flowering and fruit-bearing trees, will require only 25 percent of normal water use and will accent the detached people-friendly cottage style homes.

There are opportunities to participate for everyone. On-site amenities will be built by both residents and community volunteers, including a 1,000-foot-long public trail through the property that will connect Ferncliff Avenue and Cave Road. Others, all of which will be built by volunteers, include: a bus shelter for neighborhood students and other transit users; playgrounds; landscaping; and pea-patch gardens.

This barn-raising spirit gives everyone a chance to get involved and ensures that the new neighborhood is both welcoming and affordable.

The buyers for phase one – 24 single-family detached homes – must be income eligible with incomes from low to moderate. This broad range is desirable, as diversity is a strengthening and life-enhancing attribute.

Phase two, which will be designed and built in the next couple of years, will involve 24 multi-family homes likely to target one -and two-person households. It will address one of the island’s highest priority needs in housing.

The organizational framework for Ferncliff Village is the island’s Community Land Trust, which provides a means of long-term stewardship of the land and the community to be created on it.

Residents will get to choose representatives to the Housing Resources Board and will also provide self-governance through a homeowners’ association.

With all the environmental features, what ultimately changes the game is when a family is able to buy a house at an affordable price.

It gives the family a base on which to participate in the community and raise children in a stable neighborhood. That makes all the difference to that family and to those children for success at school and at work.

Join in the celebration of the ground-breaking at 11:30 a.m.  Friday, June 3 on site.

Ken Balizer is executive director of the Housing Resources Board.

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