‘Affordable’ townhomes move along in BI process

Bainbridge Island wants to focus growth downtown, and a new project would do that.

The planning commission approved the Ravenwood preliminary subdivision recently, with conditions.

The project would place five 3-story affordable housing townhomes on five lots off Madison Avenue near Safeway.

City planner Kelly Tayara said developments like this reduce car usage and control growth, rather than letting it scatter to outlying areas.

Architect Charlie Wenzlau said it is a continuation of what is happening around the site. Single-family homes are “being replaced with projects like ours.” He said using a nearby parking lot to access the homes would reduce its need for impervious areas. It also would mean no driveway on busy Wyatt Avenue.

There is a natural area, along with community space, including a small courtyard sitting area. Pedestrian routes all over encourage walking.

Planning Commissioner Ashley Mathews said the pedestrian pathways are “a nice touch.” She said the co-housing feel forces the community to come in contact with each other. “It’s innovative and a really cool-looking project.”

Regarding spots for bicycles and electric vehicles, Wenzlau said, “If you don’t do it, it’s an oversight.” He added while not specifically in the plan yet in its earliest pre-app version there will be both.

Tayara said because the project’s for single families neither is required.

Commissioner Yesh Subramanian asked about traffic, but because it’s only five houses a traffic study is not required. “It will be light, regardless,” Wenzlau said of traffic.

Commissioner Ariel Birtley said it would create a small community development in our urban core. “It’s interesting architecture. It feels very Northwest.”

She did wonder about stormwater. Wenzlau replied that they typically use rain gardens.

Commission chair Sara Blossom said, “It does not make sense to me to have community space on individual lots. She said a condition needed to be made for that. The others agreed.

Commissioner Bill Chester said he liked the community space idea, rather than individual lots. “They can’t build a gazebo or anything else. It’s a wonderful infill project.”

He did add that it’s unfortunate downtown often “doesn’t have sidewalks (or bike paths) that take us anywhere.”

Also, there was a second public meeting on a Housing Resources Bainbridge project off Erickson Avenue. A mailing snafu meant a second meeting was needed.

Associate planner Ellen Fairleigh said the 22 units are 100% affordable. Eleven of 12 written comments favor the project.

Joseph Shea, the only public commenter, said he supports the project, too, but he’s concerned about lack of parking. “It’s utopian to think people aren’t going to use cars,” he said. While using alternative transportation is a great goal, “People still want cars.” He lives nearby and said there is no on-street parking. Visitors also need areas to park. And, he added, he hopes they build infrastructure for electric cars because his units don’t have any.

Phaedra Elliott of HRB said they bought land in 2019 at a discount price and envision a green multifamily low-income complex. It is well-located, near stores, schools and services of all kinds.

As for parking, she said the plan is for one or fewer spaces per unit. She said if more spaces are needed, HRB hopes to make arrangements with nearby entities to share underutilized parking during certain hours. “We don’t want to create that problem” of people parking where they shouldn’t. However, “things are changing in transportation,” with fewer people using cars.

“The tradeoff is parking for housing,” Subramanian said.

Blossom asked if there would be an elevator. She said a lot of seniors need affordable housing, and they need access.

Wenzlau said elevators are very expensive, but people who lack mobility could get spots on the first floor.

Birtley agreed that shared parking is important downtown, especially as more development takes place. “There’s a lot of tug and pull there,” she said, adding most urban areas have reduced parking. “It’s a much bigger discussion.”

Subramanian is a numbers guy and said he would like to see an analysis. “It would give me a lot more warm and fuzzy” feeling, he said.