A rebuttal on Strawberry Plant

Your Sept. 24 editorial (“Is the process truly public?”) regarding the design charrette for the Strawberry Plant property included some misconceptions and misinterpretations of this event, and we are providing this response to offer more information and correct public perception about the process and the project.

There are five parks and nine road-end sites along the shores of Eagle Harbor, including the future park at the Strawberry Plant property. The physical location, features and legal restrictions of each of these sites either supports or limit certain uses. Not all sites are the same and therefore will not support all the same uses. Good park planning is based on a thorough understanding of site characteristics, community needs, adopted long-term plans, regulatory compliance and compatibility with the surrounding landscape.

The design charrette for the Strawberry Plant property is part of a continuing public process for designing the future park and is an appropriate method to facilitate public participation at this stage of design. The purpose of the charrette is to develop a range of preliminary concepts for the park. In addition to the charrette, there are other opportunities planned for the public to participate as the design process continues and before the design is final and the permitting process begins.

The Strawberry Plant property was acquired by the city for both park improvements and habitat restoration. These two objectives are very compatible with each other at this site.

Through a formal agreement, the City of Bainbridge Island and the Park District are jointly planning the improvements for the property and are jointly hosting the charrette. Utilizing our respective areas of expertise, the city is leading the habitat restoration components through its Shoreline Stewardship Program and the Park District is leading on recreational improvements.

Due to the size and location of the park, the Park District classifies the site as a neighborhood park. The design charrette is planned accordingly, by mailing invitations to over 150 property owners and residents in nearby neighborhoods and inviting representatives from 14 stakeholder groups that have either expressed a specific interest in the property or represent a broad range of community-wide interests relevant to the site, such as historic preservation, environmental protection, the Japanese-American Community, Suquamish Tribe, trails groups, and several groups that where significantly involved in the acquisition of the property. Due to the nature of a design charrette, there is a limited capacity and broad representation was sought and achieved through sending invitations and receiving RSVPs.

The site is not specifically limited to only passive recreational uses. However, due to the physical characteristics of the site (shallow water, extensive mud flats, surrounding residential neighborhood, small size, and sensitive habitats) and existing regulatory restrictions (zoning rules; shoreline, stream, and wetland buffers), there are limitations in respect to what uses may or may not be appropriate and compatible with the site or may simply not be allowed by regulations. Looking broadly at all of the public parks and shoreline access points around Eagle Harbor, there may also be more appropriate sites for certain uses.

For example, your editorial suggested a boat haul out and repair area could be a potential use for the site, but such a use is prohibited by existing regulations. The rowing club, city, and park district chose to locate the club at Waterfront Park instead of the Strawberry Plant, in part, because the dock would have to be over 300 feet long, extending about half way across the harbor, and would still not be useful at low tides. The site is also not suitable for a launch ramp for motorized boats due to shallow water and extensive mud flats and an existing launch ramp is located not far away at Waterfront Park.

In the future, we hope that the Bainbridge Review will contact the city regarding our projects and processes. We are very willing to share information to help avoid misconceptions and misinterpretations in future editorials or stories.

Public misconceptions are hard to be undone, waste valuable resources to respond to, can unnecessarily harm well-intentioned projects, and affect the public credibility of the city and the Review.

Libby Hudson is a long-range planning division manager for the city.

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