BI takes ‘risk’ on 5G technology

Bainbridge Island wants and needs 5G technology, but it also cares what that looks like.

The City Council said Tuesday that it wants to make sure the small wireless facilities don’t spoil people’s views. They want to make sure a visual impact analysis is done.

“We’re tired of companies pushing us around,” Mayor Joe Deets said.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki added, “We have to look at it every day.”

The council voted to accept the recommendation from the planning commission, even though city attorney Joe Levan advised the council to take out the part of the decision dealing with the visual analysis.

Levan said there are other parts in the measure dealing with the visual aspects of the small cell sites. But an analysis could take too long because there is a “shot clock” on the process. The FCC wants the 5G rollout and any delays could put BI at risk.

“The telecommunications industry says local regs get in the way of the rollout,” city manager Blair King said.

During public comments, Lisa Macchio spoke on behalf of herself but not the planning commission. She said they put in a lot of time on this, and, “Now this issue comes up, something different. They were not informed of this until now.”

Macchio said it should go back to the planning commission. Even though it is an advisory board, she said they have the expertise the council does not have. When the council deviates from its recommendation, it should get it back for revisions, she said.

“The planning commission does that work for you – the deep dive,” she said.

The council was told that the planning commission used the same language as Kitsap County.

“If we can’t make it, but the county can” meet the deadline we have problems, Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said. “I’m willing to take the risk.”

Of the planning commission, she added, “We wouldn’t get anything done” if we had to do the deep dive on every issue.

Hytopoulos said about 1 1/2 years ago city staff told the planning commission about the visual impact analysis issue. “They were aware of the advice.”

Councilmember Jon Quitslund was on the planning commission at the time but sees things differently now. He said there will be two new members on that panel soon, so there could be many delays if the issue is sent back to them.

“We can deal with it,” he said of the council. “We want to facilitate 5G installation on Bainbridge Island. Our community needs access to that technology.”

Hytopoulos said she lives on the south end of BI and badly wants 5G. “This will not prohibit 5G. We’re just trying to make you play by our community’s rules.”

Save a tree

The council voted to spend up to $19,500 to save a 300-year-old tree.

A state Department of Transportation roundabout being built at Ada’s Will Lane and Highway 305 would have removed the tree.

DOT is going to build a retaining wall to try to save it, but wanted the city to pitch in for some of the cost.

Moriwaki said he is “torn by this” as he thinks WSDOT should pay for it all.

Quitslund said if the tree dies the city should be compensated because the “job wasn’t done right.”

Hytopoulos asked if the retaining wall would even work. She said someone with the city should be able to weigh in on that part of the project considering the city’s investment.

Deets said he worked with state Sen. Rolfes on this. “They can’t guarantee it will save the tree, but it certainly won’t be saved otherwise.”

He added that Rolfes saw the need for more funding for just this type of work as WSDOT was “concerned about setting a precedent for this.”

Public comment

Both Fred McGinnis and Jim Halbrook spoke on the police-court facility.

McGinnis said the city has wasted about $10 million by not using public-owned land at Highway 305 and Madison. He said it is an “ideal location” compared to the old Harrison Medical Building, which is next to a senior facility and a church.

He asked that the project be put on “pause” as the proposal is properly considered by the city. He also asked why none of the councilmembers have responded to his inquiries as they are public officials. “The silence is deafening.”

Jim Halbrook the city’s process on this issue “destroys my faith in democracy.” He mentioned that Clark Construction, the largest donor to Deets’s campaign, received the $7.6 million bid for the Harrison remodel. It was also the low bid, he admitted.