Fight comes at cost of community

What price, “principle”?

Sometimes, it seems, a needlessly high one. As reported elsewhere in this issue, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the city misconstrued state land-use law when it shut down a home-construction project in Murden Cove for lack of a specific permit.

The case involved a mind-numbingly arcane issue, namely, whether Charles Cole’s filling of a small “wetland” did or did not require a “Shoreline Substantial Development Permit.” Cole argued that the work he was doing was too minimal to trigger the permit requirement, and at first the city agreed. Then an activist group got involved. When the planning department reversed its decision and stopped the project, Cole went to court.

And ultimately, the court said, both sides missed the point – because the wetland area was artificially created, it was never a wetland at all, so the construction didn’t matter.

Lost in all of that legalizing is one fact that nobody disputed – whether natural or artificial, the wetland served no measurable function, and was of no ecological importance.

The whole fight was about principle. The activist group admitted as much, saying it never made any determination about whether Cole’s project would be good or bad, but just wanted the law enforced. And while the city could have said, “It’s too late to change our decision,” it decided to shut down the work, which prompted a costly lawsuit.

We have never been particularly fond of arguments over principle, and that’s only in part because our tax dollars pay for those fights – both for the city’s lawyers, and perhaps for Mr. Cole’s as well.

Our deeper concern is about the corrosive effect these fights have on our sense of community. Cole said he is no longer sure he wants to live here. Whether said in anger or not, it should pain us a little bit to hear words like that.

As anyone who has been married for more than 15 minutes can attest, a fundamental relationship rule is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Nobody does everything right all the time, and co-existence requires a certain amount of looking the other way. Folks who can’t abide another’s errors and omissions probably should stay single.

A myopic focus on “rights” and “principles” is just as destructive on a community level. We think the question of “is it really important” should come first, not as an afterthought.

The old adage about “picking your battles” still rings true. This is, after all, Bainbridge Island, and there will always be enough arguments about important issues to keep us all busy.

Our picks

Don’t forget to mark that ballot and put it in the mail for the Feb. 5 election. As a reminder, the Review’s endorsements are:

Home Rule Charter – As drafted, the charter would disenfranchise voters and punish islanders for their high turnout at the polls; provisions for initiative and referendum include senselessly low targets for collecting signatures, meaning any county ordinance or budget could be waylaid by a handful of unhappy residents. Vote No.

Bainbridge Park Levy – After failing to participate in the park district budgeting process, some ball field advocates now oppose the levy as “too low.” We say our park system is more than a groundskeeper for youth sports leagues; keep the gates open and programs going with a sensible levy rate. Vote Yes.

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