UPDATE | Bainbridge planning commission asks for rejection of downtown hotel project

The Bainbridge Island Planning Commission unanimously voted late last week to recommend denial of the Winslow Hotel project.

In it’s 16-page report that the project be rejected, the commission said the proposed 87-room hotel did not mesh with the goals and policies of the city’s comprehensive plan and the Winslow Master Plan.

In reaching their recommendation, commissioners discounted two favorable reviews of the project approved by the city’s Design Review Board, as well as detailed and comprehensive ones conducted by Bainbridge planning and engineering officials.

The commission’s decision echoed that of critics of the project, who have claimed that the project is too big for downtown Winslow, that the hotel is not being built for the benefit of Bainbridge residents, and will add more traffic and noise to Winslow Way.

Commissioners also said previous analyses conducted on the project were insufficient.

The hotel “includes an intensity and scale of uses (87 hotel rooms, meeting rooms, conference center, restaurant, bar, outdoor amphitheater/bandshell/courtyard, continuous operations 24/7) that are not compatible with the project’s surroundings,” the planning commission’s decision said, “and will result in parking, traffic and noise impacts that either have not been adequately analyzed or are incompatible with the project’s surroundings.”

The commission also said the problems can’t be resolved without resulting “in a significantly different project.”

The July 25 decision by the seven-member volunteer board conflicts with the review conducted by city planning staff, as well as another volunteer group that has reviewed the project, the city’s Design Review Board.

In June, Bainbridge development engineer Peter Corelis recommended approval of the site plan for the hotel.

In his review, Corelis said the plans fit with city regulations on drainage and stormwater, water quality, streets, sidewalks, public water and sewer services.

Corelis also said the project complies with the city’s comprehensive plan, Bainbridge’s long-term guide for growth and development on the island.

In a subsequent planning staff report on the proposal, city planner Olivia Sontag also said the project was consistent with the city’s comp plan and noted the plans provide more than city regulations require, specifically on parking, tree retention and landscaping requirements.

Sontag also said the hotel proposal met the city’s applicable design guidelines, height, dimension, and other density standards.

The Design Review Board also twice issued favorable recommendations to the hotel proposal.

But in its recommendation that the project be rejected, however, the planning commission raised questions about the Design Review Board’s decisions.

The planning commission also said the staff report on the hotel was wrong to say the project would promote concentrated non-residential development which would reduce reliance on automobiles because the hotel would add 727 vehicle trips per day to downtown Winslow.

Although the developers of the project said they would operate a shuttle to the ferry terminal to pick up hotel guests, the commission said “the extent to which this will reduce the number of vehicle trips generated by this project is unclear.”

The commission’s report also noted no analysis had been done to measure how much noise would be generated by the project, including noise made by outdoor events, delivery trucks and garbage collection.

Commissioners, as well, said the traffic analysis done for the project was not adequate because it didn’t consider traffic surges from ferry loading and unloading, and didn’t determine if traffic impacts would be “materially detrimental” on other properties in the area.

Commissioners also claimed in their decision that the hotel mainly serves off-islanders as an “inclusive establishment” and that guests won’t have much reason to leave the facility.

While commissioners note the city’s comprehensive plan supports tourism as a “key section of the island’s economy,” the planning commission said the hotel would not help meet some of the plan’s goals of attracting tourists and would not provide “creative tourist accommodations.”

“The proposed project does not accomplish these goals because it is designed to be a full service hotel, with most or all of guests’ needs met onsite,” the planning commission said.

The planning commission’s recommendation also noted: “Its purpose and function are to serve visitors, which will be at the expense of island residents. It does not maintain Winslow’s small town atmosphere, and will be detrimental to uses and/or property in the vicinity of the project.”

The planning commission’s opinion of whether the hotel fits with comp plan goals on tourism marked an about-face from the conclusion drawn by the city’s planning staff.

Sontag, in her staff report, said: “A hotel increases employment opportunities, economic vitality, provides gathering spaces, and supports tourism. The proximity to the ferry system, public transit options, and frontage improvements such as a 6-foot sidewalk and bike lane reduces the reliance on automobiles. The hotel, sidewalk, and parking, including a van-accessible parking space in the entry court provide disabled access. The proposal exceeds parking recommendations from the consultant with all spaces located on site, proposes a van as hotel shuttle service, provides on-street spaces with an electric vehicle charging station and seven others located in the parking garage, and exceeds bicycle parking requirements.”

In its recommendation to deny the project, the planning commission’s report repeatedly notes that the hotel has “six times” the number of rooms that would be permitted outright if developers had sought a permit for an inn. One commissioner also maintained, falsely, that hotels were not permitted in the downtown core.

While inns are a permitted use in the downtown area, city regulations require they contain no more than 15 rooms.

Hotels are also permitted downtown by the city’s municipal code, but require a conditional use permit. City regulations do not put a cap on the number of guest rooms in a hotel.

The Winslow Hotel project has grown in controversy in recent months.

Plans for the hotel, which would be built on parcels at 253 Winslow Way West and 241 Winslow Way West, prompted concerns from residents in nearby apartment buildings and residential neighborhoods who warned that the hotel would increase noise in the downtown and contribute to existing traffic and parking problems.

Proponents of the hotel have repeatedly noted that the project will abide by state law and local noise regulations, and the developers made an agreement with Bainbridge Disposal to limit garbage and recycling pickup to between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Plans included storing garbage and recycling bins in an enclosed space, as well as sound-absorbing surfaces for the walls and doors surrounding the hotel’s loading dock.

Developers of the project also said the hotel will be in harmony with development in the downtown, and that it will be the same height as the three-story commercial building across the street from the hotel site and have detailed a total of 11 three- and four-story buildings are within a block of the hotel property.

The project — designed by Bainbridge-based Cutler Anderson Architects — will provide more parking than city regulations require, and traffic to the property will be less than what the neighborhood has historically seen, when there was a barbecue restaurant and the 122 Bar on the land, as well as the still-existing office building.

Project proponents have also noted that the hotel’s proposed footprint is also smaller than the maximum square footage allowed by the city, and architects have noted they have repeatedly modified the design of the building in response to public concerns.

It was clear before last week’s vote that the planning commission would issue a recommendation of denial. A subcommittee set up by the planning commission prepared a draft version of the commission’s decision before the meeting.

Commissioners praised the recommendation as “excellent” and “thorough.”

Though their recommendation stretched for 16 pages, the decision was mostly filled with a recitation of policies found in the city’s comp plan and the Winslow Master Plan. The decision did not cite specific areas of nonconformity of the hotel plan with each policy cited, but rather provided a summary of inconsistency.

That approach was different than the one taken by the city’s professional planning staff, as well as the developers for the project.

In the city’s 39-page staff report, nine pages of goals and policies were cited, followed by a lengthy analysis on how the project fit with those goals and policies. Public comments were then summarized and rebutted, followed by six pages of the project’s compliance with city regulations, followed by eight pages of criteria for evaluating the project, then six pages more of additional requirements that the project would need to complete as the hotel is built.

The development team prepared a 30-page report for the planning commission that recounted each policy raised by the city staff report, and included a response from the developer on how each goal was met by the proposal.

At last week’s planning commission discussion before their vote, there was, however, some words of caution about how the hearing examiner would view the recommendation from the planning commission and if their recommendation should include conditions that the project would have to abide by if eventually approved by the hearing examiner.

Commissioners decided against that approach.

The hotel proposal will now go to Interim Planning & Community Development Director Heather Wright for a review.

Wright will make a recommendation on the project to the city’s hearing examiner, who will make the final decision on the hotel.

A hearing date has not been set.

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