Open space plan is more about dreams

In case you didn’t already know, the city has begun updating the 2025-30 Comprehensive Plan, its first priority being the creation of a stratagem for the future of the island’s open spaces. It’s essentially another plan within a plan, but it’s fortuitous that city leaders realize the judiciousness of protecting the island’s most valuable commodity against the threat of urban sprawl. They fear that if they don’t plan now and stick to their guns later, the almighty dollar will turn this Seattle suburb into an enlarged version of Mercer Island.

It doesn’t appear to be too late, but there is uncertainty about the magnitude to which islanders are willing to commit to such a project. Again, we’re talking greenbacks, and whether there are enough to go around — an ample amount to fix our many urban problems and still allow us to be caring stewards of an environment that is worth saving and enriching. The city has bought into it by creating a plan that forces a majority of the island’s residents to live in the Winslow core and three commercial centers, but implementing a community plan is always a struggle.

With that in mind, consider an “open house” for open space gathering Thursday evening at City Hall, where as many as 75 people participated in a workshop that focused on identifying potential open space and considered “conservation strategies.” In conjunction with the Park and Recreation District’s update of its 2002 Comprehensive Plan, the meeting allowed people who prefer wooded trails over urban roads leading to cul-de-sacs to share their vision of the island 20 years from now.

It’s a fun group, islanders who generally enjoy life by living it day by day. Not to say that they aren’t deadly serious about establishing and preserving the cultural, recreational and ecological values of this community. They can talk endlessly about such issues as habitat connectivity, biodiversity, conservation easements and which lands should be acquired, protected and/or restored. That’s right, acquired. How? The favorite tool for those in attendance was not surprising — public open space bonds. There are other possibilities, but the use of public bonds means everybody pays for the privilege of enjoying the lush garden that is Bainbridge.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the evening was when attendees split into four groups and — with the use of GIS maps — identified parcels they want to protect, whether they are recreational, cultural resources, characteristic of the community or working lands. Each group came up with dozens of suggestions, including some very doable and others more unrealistic than not. The possible included: establishing a public-owned shellfish farm on Agate Passage, just south of the bridge; making more land available for boardwalks, bike paths, trails, community gardens and pea patches; more public access to the water; and making existing public land more accessible. And there were some ideas that may be fulfilled some day, but not tomorrow, such as: turning the WSF maintenance yard into a marine park, spanning SR-305 with a walking overpass or underpass, and the purchase of a couple of acres here and there and everywhere.

Unfortunately, the city’s land-buying days are over for a while after buying the Meigs and Williams properties last year with councilmanic bonds. Revenues are down due to a slumping economy and the council is now talking about selling surplus property to rectify a financial dilemma rather than buying anew. Will they sell land that should be protected? In other words, dream on and plan on, but don’t expect your wishes to be fulfilled anytime soon with a rush of public money. And don’t forget to enjoy what we do have.

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