A ‘paper village’ finds its future

Even if a code of personal nonviolence leaves you disinclined to shoot the messenger, sometimes you might like to give him a good kick in the shins.

A lot of folks used to feel that way about Charles Wilson – remember him? – back when he was shilling for an 1,100-home development around Blakely Harbor, ca. 1992. Nobody except a few local contrarians much liked the idea. But bless his heart, Charles had an uncanny knack for finding chinks in the mail of island preservation, and could spin any yokel’s “yeah, but” into a plausible reason why his vision for island growth – that is, significantly (and profitably) higher density on his company’s land – made the most sense.

Among Charles’ favorite targets was the so-called “village concept,” then in vogue as a means of accommodating future growth not just in Winslow, but also in the outlying burgs of Island Center, Rolling Bay and Lynwood Center. Charles liked to point out that a lack of zoning capacity and infrastructure made significant growth in those areas unlikely; “paper villages,” he called them. The prig.

He may have been begging for a swift boot to the tibia, but on this one Charles was right. Today, as the island plans for the estimated 6,900 new residents expected to come ashore by 2025, just 5 percent of them – 345 souls, city planners say – are earmarked for what we now call “neighborhood service centers.” Not a big part of the burden. But Lynwood Center, which has the highest capacity for new residents among the three centers, suggests what can be accomplished by concentrating a few more people around an outlying commercial hub should zoning, infrastructure and vision fall into place.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, the hillside overlooking the Lynwood Theatre is now slated for development by Bill Nelson, with a design by Charlie Wenzlau. The mixed-use “Blossom Hill” project would see about seven dozen residential units and a new commercial strip across the street from current Lynwood businesses. While the phrase “80 new homes” is likely to set off alarm bells over at the Scotch Broom office, as new developments go, this looks like one the community can live with.

For perspective, track down a copy of the “Lynwood Center Special Planning Area Report” crafted by neighbors and city planners in 1997. Acknowledging the untapped zoning in the 54-acre Lynwood area – Blossom Hill is do-able without any rezones – the document calls for improved pedestrian access; preservation of the neighborhood’s “quaint” (read: Tudor-esque), small-scale architecture; mixed-use development with residences and commercial space integrated; and improved parking. With the possible exception of “preservation of natural areas” – some hillside trees are going to come down, which should be implicit – the Blossom Hill project incorporates all of these, and looks to be largely an extension of the neighborhood as islanders now know it.

The changes might even spur a cash infusion in the historic Lynwood Center commercial area itself, sagging a bit in its eighth decade and largely vacant. A revivified business district, with more shops and services and a critical mass of residents, would certainly serve the whole south end and cut down on car trips into town. Hard to argue with that.

Certainly, the project deserves a good going-over by neighbors and the planning commission. And if our old friend Charles were still around, he would no doubt point out that all this is possible only because of sewer availability, and land under common ownership that allows a unified plan – much like his ill-fated development.

And he’d be (sigh) right. Seeing a similar renaissance at Island Center and Rolling Bay would be another matter still. But Lynwood Center, that may be a paper village no more.

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