BI subverts process for development it can’t refuse

It was an offer most of the Bainbridge Island City Council couldn’t refuse.

During public comments at the start of its May 9 meeting, Joe Raymond of Pleasant Beach talked about changes in a proposal that months ago led to a moratorium on inns on BI.

The new proposal calls for 10 low-income rental units, perfect for those who work in Lynwood Center, which would reduce long commutes. Those are all things the council has been advocating for years, with little success. The previous proposal called for a 15-room inn. That drew public complaints because it would have been next to two other large inns.

“We are in a housing crisis, especially with affordable rentals,” Councilmember Joe Deets said, adding the “flexibility is warranted, and “we have an obligation to meet the needs of the community of Lynwood where they are most needed.”

Deets voted against the plan last time when there were only three affordable housing units, but talked with Raymond about increasing that number.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos was the main opponent, saying residential is the emphasis in the city’s Comprehensive Plan for neighborhood centers. She said the council should not “randomly chip away” at the Comp Plan.

Besides, “There’s no application before us. That may or may not happen. The bottom line is there is so much at stake here.”

To which Deets replied, “I’m fine with process but sometimes we have to make a decision for the good of the community.”

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said the new plan would be a “huge asset” as people who work there could live there. “Talk about a drop in carbon;” they could walk to work.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said, “That ship has sailed,” regarding Lynwood Center because it already has two popular inns that “pull people to the island.”

She said as part of this newest proposal she’d like to see the city be creative in partnering with Raymond to reduce traffic. She’d like to see Pleasant Beach reduce its hospitality piece, and she’d like to see an agreement that Pleasant Beach would commit to supplying vans to bring people to the inns, rather than individual cars, for example.

Hytopolous reiterated that this is a “massive change to the Comp Plan. The community is not going to like this.”

She said if the council wants something different for its neighborhood centers, “That’s OK,” but that needs to be vetted through the Comp Plan process. Instead, they are making a decision contradictory to the Comp Plan on the eve of when it’s being updated. She said the council should not be randomly approving something just because, “We want it there.”

On the other side, Belinda Thornburg said, “There is no greedy developer business going on here.” She said they just want to continue the conversation to discuss the things people are concerned about.

Comprehensive Plan

Along with ending the moratorium, the council also approved four amendments to the city’s Comp. Hytopoulos was the lone dissenter.

City staff originally recommended denial for an amendment in Lynwood Center because it could lead to increased density in an area where no sewer is currently available. However, staff reconsidered as the amendment was changed so that no development is evident at this time.

Also, staff recommended approval of three Comp Plan amendments for Puget Sound Energy that asks for its substations to be changed from residential to business industrial zoning. PSE says not only is that consistent with the land use since 1960, but it’s also needed to allow flexibility as it provides updates to improve service. All three sites in Winslow, Port Madison and Murden Cove are also right next to business-industrial zoning.

The main objection from the public was if PSE leaves the site it would be open to other industrial or business uses, but PSE has no plans to leave.

Schneider said rather than business-industrial she would rather see a utility zone, but that could be something for the future. Others agreed.

But Hytopoulos said the council again was not respecting process. She wondered why they were passing an amendment when the topics will be discussed during the ongoing Comp Plan update process. That’s where any changes should be made.

“We’re using a hammer instead of a chisel,” she said. “This is not the only solution.”

She said she wants PSE to expand and improve electricity reliability on BI, but it goes against the Comp Plan having business-industrial zoning in the middle of the island.

During public comments, Helene Smart said the Planning Commission used “fuzzy thinking” regarding the Lynwood Center amendment. She said the Comp Plan should be followed and warned them “don’t be fooled” by any negotiated solution.

Marilyn Mclauchlan agreed. She said the No. 1 guiding principle of the Comp Plan is to preserve the special character of BI. “Respect the needs of the neighborhood before busing in any more tourists.”

There were a number of comments regarding PSE; most supported the Comp Plan amendments.

Jessica Perkins said it’s the best solution for reliable power on BI. She said that’s more important than ever as more people and businesses rely on power for online work and electrification of vehicles and even ferries becomes more prominent.

Tom Hansen said the amendment was vetted by the city, and BI can’t wait for the perfect solution.

Kathleen Hansen said, “The worse you can do is nothing. That’s been going on for decades.” She said it’s not about what the neighbors of the substations want. “It’s about the thousands of islanders who want reliable electricity.”