Opinion

‘No!’ is concise, but not much of a strategy

“NO MORE CONDOS!” the stark, printed flier demands of passersby. “Where are we really headed? Will Winslow Tomorrow equal Condo City? It’s unsustainable!”

The author of the power-pole polemic – a document now papering buildings and bulletin boards in downtown Winslow – goes on to decry the state’s “Growth Mandate Act,” arguing that Bainbridge Island growth is not inevitable, but rather is being “nationally marketed” by unspecified (but no doubt dark) forces.

“Send the developers back to Bellevue, Mercer Island and Issaquah!,” the handbill implores. “BAINBRIDGE IS NOT FOR SALE!”

Except that it is for sale, and that will be true anywhere raw land, accommodating zoning, and willing buyers and sellers converge. Accepting that reality may not be pleasant – nobody much likes change, certainly not in their neighborhood – but it seems hard to get around. And most of those developers, they’ve been on the island for some time already; not sure where we’d be sending them “back” to.

Still, our polemicist will have a chance to make the case for “NO!” as the mayor’s 2025 Growth Advisory Committee holds the first of two public meetings next week, at 6:30 p.m. June 29 at City Hall (a second is slated for July 10). The committee is charged with figuring out how best to plan for new island residents – perhaps 6,000 of them by 2025 – and developing growth management strategies that will preserve the island’s open space and “sense of community.”

Patty Fielding, who chairs the group, suggests it’s a matter of tweaking zoning and incentives, making tradeoffs where needed, so as to steer growth in an optimal mix between Winslow, the “neighborhood service centers” of Lynwood, Island Center and Rolling Bay, and the outlying island.

What that optimal mix is, that’s precisely the point of the community discussion next week and beyond – acknowledging that the agents of change are largely islanders themselves. “The (bulk) of the island is privately owned,” Fielding notes, “and you can only do so much telling people how they can sell their land, and to whom and for what purpose.”

There is wisdom there. Too often, the debate over development posits growth as one-sided economic opportunity for developers. But those hated condos going up around town also represent opportunity for those who invested in the land in the first place, and for the families and individuals for whom they represent a new and perhaps better standard of residency and economic weal. Zoning island-wide is our collective expression of a future island; within that framework, expecting nothing to change just isn’t plausible.

So to our poster polemicist: If you can articulate a vision of “NO” within the realities of market economics, we’re listening. But until islanders with vacant land start rushing forward asking to be downzoned – volunteering to sacrifice their own investments and opportunities to keep change at bay – it’s a word that just doesn’t carry much weight.

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