IN OUR OPINION ‘Parking lot’ irks neighbors

Business and residential members of the Rolling Bay neighborhood held a raucous meeting Thursday night in City Hall, often angrily airing their opinions about the recent parking of two or three dozen cars on the large vacant lot at Valley Road and Sunrise Drive. The group, numbering about 50, also had heated discussion about the city’s handling of the permit process regarding the remodeling of the building occupied by Rolling Bay Automotive.

The neighbors are upset that, without any notice, Bainbridge Island Taxi and auto shop cars were suddenly parked day and night starting in June on property owned by Soon Hong, who also owns Jiffy Mart. Both approached Hong earlier this year to lease land on a month-to-month basis. The neighbors complained that the lot and the auto shop’s ongoing construction project are eyesores that are incompatible with the neighborhood, a potential source of ground and water pollution and a safety hazard because of traffic congestion.

The meeting, which included Meghan McKnight, the city’s code enforcement officer, and City Attorney Paul McMurray, was set up to allow residents and business people in the neighborhood service center to provide information that may help city planners address potential code violations and complete the post-application permit process. During much of the 90-minute meeting, neighbors railed while most of the principals, including Hong, owners of the auto shop (represented by attorney Dennis Reynolds), Bay Hay and Feed and Myers Biodynamics had little to say. Owners of the taxi company said they were sympathetic to complaints, but that the city didn’t have a code definition for their business, which makes it difficult for them to find a home for their 11 vehicles.

Much of the vehemence was aimed at the city and the auto shop, which was accused of being out of code because of a 10-foot-high chainlink fence with razor wire on top of it, the many vehicles parked off-site, a remodel they claim is larger than what its building permit allowed and wastewater drainage into the adjacent drain of Myers Biodynamics. Reynolds complained about his clients being forced to even attend the meeting, saying: “My clients are willing to meet with people at any time and any place, but not like this. Just coming here makes it look like we are guilty.”

The city chose not to hold a pre-application meeting, which would have allowed neighbors to weigh in on the issues. McKnight, however, did send a letter dated May 6 to Ranji Dhatt, owner of the auto shop, which placed the building permit on hold until drainage revisions occurred. It also said the parking was not permitted until the city reviewed the site plan. The construction and off-site parking continued.

The meeting ended with McKnight saying the planning department soon would decide if there were code violations, but most people went away unahppy. The best part followed, however, as the principals discussed the many issues in an understanding and affable tone. It appeared to be the first time they had all gotten together, which, if true, reveals why there was so much resentment during the meeting.

The auto shop owners said they were frustrated by the construction, too, and that the “ugliness” would disappear when the job ended. Bay Hay owners said the parking eyesore had gotten better as the shop’s cars were parked more orderly and indicated they would be willing to provide trees to help screen the parking areas. Hong and the taxi owners also said they would do their part to improve the corner’s aesthetics.

Hopefully, the city will learn from the drama, which could be repeated at the island’s other service centers as development occurs. McMurray defended the city’s actions at Rolling Bay, saying that planners don’t have the time to deal with possible code violations until complaints are filed. Understandable, but the city should have seen this brouhaha coming from a mile away and involved the neighbors.

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