When it seemed like Puget Sound Energy was trying to play hardball, Sarah Blossom responded with a brush-back pitch.
At the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission meeting Oct. 18, Kerry Kriner of PSE explained the need for a rezone and Comprehensive Plan amendment so it could do work to improve electricity reliability on the island. She said if not approved, PSE may have to move its substations to other sites, leaving the old ones vacant. “We would have to relocate our infrastructure on the island,” she said.
Wait a minute! Commissioner Blossom said that’s not the case. She said they could make code amendments.
Commissioner Sean Sullivan said he found it hard to believe PSE would abandon its substations, considering all of the investment put into them. “The need is clear. How do we get there?” he asked.
Blossom agreed with the other commissioners that they had no problem changing the zoning at the Murden Cove and Port Madison substations from residential to Business Industrial because commercial areas surround them. But they did have a problem with the Winslow substation because it’s surrounded by residential. “Winslow is a little bit different,” Commissioner Ben Deines said.
Blossom shared a story about her grandfather who used to have an old shop where he built furniture and cabinets. Now in that residential area, there is a giant storage facility because of that old zoning. She said plans change and years from now, if PSE abandons one of its sites, the zone would be Business Industrial in a residential area, and who knows what could be built?
“I’m not interested in getting in Puget Sound Energy’s way” of improving resources on BI, she said. “But I don’t see this as a roadblock. Their work plan would just need to be adjusted.”
Blossom suggested a conditional-use process, which would include more public involvement.
City senior planner Kelly Tayara said that additional process could be cumbersome.
Kriner said PSE has taken years to plan this, and that any other process would cause them delays in improving power. But then she did say Murden Cove is the substation they want to work on first.
Tayara opened the meeting saying the zoning is inconsistent with the use of the property. Public comment supported the need for improved PSE service in Port Madison and Murden Cove, but comments were mixed about Winslow.
Giving some background, Kriner said the Port Madison substation was built in 1964 when there was little around it. Now, it is surrounded by Business Industrial. Same with Murden Cove, which was built in 1979. Winslow was built in 1960.
Kriner said residential zoning does not give PSE the flexibility it needs. “It’s the least impactful option. We’re just trying to keep the lights on.”
The change would allow PSE to improve energy use to meet the needs and adapt when growth occurs. “The use won’t change,” she said, adding energy upgrades are needed everywhere because of increased use of things like electric vehicles.
Commissioner Peter Schaab said the zoning is incorrect, and the change would make the community more resilient. He said there are too many power outages on BI. “That is not a way to run a modern community.”
During public comments, Kathy Hansen said two-thirds of islanders want PSE to be allowed to do its job, adding electric service on the south end is so unreliable.
Her husband, Tom, agreed, adding it has been an oversight in terms of planning and zoning to have the substations for so many years in a residential zone. “It’s never been residential, and it never will be residential,” he said.
Also at the meeting, commissioners agreed that the city’s next Capital Improvement Plan meshes with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
But Sullivan said, “I’m disappointed that that is the scale of our ambition, especially for the nonmotorized transportation,” especially around schools. He added he hopes the city could add more funding.
Deines took it a step further. He made a motion that passed urging the Sustainable Transportation Plan be funded as fully as possible, connecting growth centers with nonmotorized opportunities.
Chris Wierzbicki, city Public Works director, who presented the plan to the commissioners, said the funding listed was a benchmark. The budget can be amended at any time. He said the city is always looking for new revenue sources.
Earlier, he had talked about transportation projects in the Capital Improvement Plan. He actually said nonmotorized projects were a big part of the budget. They include the Sound to Olympics Trail, Madison and Grow avenues, Eagle Harbor Drive and Bucklin Hill Road. They also include Electric Vehicle charging stations and replacing equipment, like sweepers. “We have to plan for inflation on all these projects,” Wierzbicki said more than once.
He also talked about water, which will cost a “big chunk” of the budget. The city’s water tank in the northwest corner of Bainbridge High School will be replaced at a cost of $11 million. It actually won’t store any more water than the current one, but it will be taller, allowing gravity to do more of the work in providing water pressure. Also, wells and main extensions will be upgraded. Sewer work will include the wastewater treatment plant, along with main upgrades, pump stations and fish passages. To pay for some of that work, Wierzbicki said water and sewer rates will need to be updated.
For facilities, the police-court building expects to be done next fall, and City Hall and Public Works also will receive upgrades.
A fairly new process locally is the planning commission’s pre-application phase, when the public can learn about a proposed project, so it and the applicant know about concerns early on.
Clark Construction wants to renovate and expand a building at 911 Hildebrand on BI into its new headquarters. The former bank building would increase from 8,000 to 12,000 square feet. The style of the building would be Northwest Modern.
Solar panels and a rainwater collection system are planned, along with wood signage and outdoor spaces. The four corners of the building will be green space, covered by an overhanging roof. A bank of trees will remain, with small planters on the hardscape. The popular traffic pattern of a shortcut through the parking lot would remain.
Commissioner Ashley Mathews said she’s excited to see that area transform, while Deines said he loves the shed theme, the green building and covered bike parking area.