Best answer yet for vibrant downtown

With the same sense of hope that we greet the new baseball season, we also bid a welcome to Harbor Square, the latest incarnation of a mixed-use project that could transform the landscape of downtown Winslow.

Two previous plans have been launched on the prime five-acre tract north of the ferry terminal. Both foundered – in part because of community opposition, but mostly because of the improvidence of first developer, who borrowed heavily and pledged the land as security. Those debts sank “The Landing,” as it was then known, and forced a foreclosure sale that took the parcel out of the hands of the next would-be developer as well.

Now come the 180 residential units of Harbor Square – homes that represent a big chunk of the 1,500 units needed in Winslow to meet the Comprehensive Plan’s objective of putting half of future growth downtown.

The retail uses will extend our central commercial area to the east, and we believe attracting more shoppers will benefit current merchants. And there will be financial benefits to the community in the form of sales taxes, job creation and the fact that the city generally can provide services more cost-effectively to denser, in-town growth than it can elsewhere.

We aren’t naive enough to think that the plan will be welcomed universally. What we’re talking about here is the “D” word – density – and folks who just don’t want any more people (or any change at all) won’t be happy.

But as is often said about birthdays, look at the alternative. If we can’t stop people from coming to Bainbridge Island, we either build high-density projects in town (or in the Neighborhood Service Centers) or we build individual single-family homes in the outskirts – a practice which uses more land, puts a greater strain on the environment, generates more traffic and is more expensive to serve. And until someone figures out how to blunt the demand for such homes, projects like Harbor Square are worth a serious look.

Somewhat to our surprise, City Council Chair Michael Pollock had some kind words to say about the notion of a high-density Winslow. Over coffee earlier this week, Pollock opined that what island retailers and services need most is a critical mass of customers.

“When we talk about helping downtown business, I think maybe the best thing we can do is encourage more residential density downtown,” Pollock told us.

By this vision – which coincides unmistakably with the island’s Comprehensive Plan – would come a more vibrant Winslow core, with a greater variety of restaurants and perhaps even a modicum of night life. A lively mini-city, Pollock suggested, might even prove attractive to the 21-35 set that the 2001 Census showed to be virtually extinct on Bainbridge.

The question isn’t whether Bainbridge will change, but how. And Harbor Square is the best approach we’ve seen yet to development in the ferry terminal area.

While we respect the refinements bound to come through the public process, we trust that third time’s a charm for this project.

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