BI OKs Bethany housing

Even the two Bainbridge Island City Council members who voted against an affordable housing project at Bethany Lutheran Church Oct. 25 said they like the project.

They don’t like that the law is not just for that pilot project as was initially planned. It applies to the entire island.

“I’m sad and frustrated,” Kirsten Hytopoulos said, adding it was one of the most difficult decisions she’s made on council. She said she supports the Bethany project and the state statute behind it. Along with it being islandwide, she also doesn’t like the “arbitrary” formula city staff developed for added density on affordable housing for religious organizations.

Michael Pollock took it one step further. He asked that the law be amended to take out the part that dealt with density islandwide. It died due to lack of a second.

He said he doesn’t know why the five councilmembers wanted the law to apply islandwide when all of the discussion was about Bethany. What the law would mean islandwide was not vetted. He wanted to reduce the density of the Winslow area so that it would not affect conservation areas on BI.

Because the law won’t affect other religious organizations for five years, Pollock said other councilmembers don’t seem to be concerned. He said there is no commitment from the council in the law that makes it scrutinize the success or failure of the Bethany project.

“Come heck or high water” the other five are going to vote for it, he said, adding he hopes the council takes a more serious look at the issue in developing the Housing Action Plan.

Hytopoulos added there is nothing in the law that encourages Bethany to have rentals, which is what is needed to house service workers on BI, which was one of her goals.

She said she has been seriously criticized by some for not voting in favor. Her morality and intelligence were questioned. “If one dissents they will be branded.”

The other five members voted in favor.

Deputy mayor Clarence Moriwaki said there has been a lot of misinformation on the issue. He said that the law being unconstitutional due to church and state is one. Another is that anyone could start a religious organization to obtain the added density. It can’t be a “fly by night” organization, he said. “Fear is used to divide people” on the island, he added.

“Anyone forming a church on a whim is not that easy,” Mayor Joe Deets said. He added that requiring rentals would be a “poison pill” but that it’s likely if Bethany can do it, it will. The most important thing is the law addresses one of the most important issues on BI – lack of affordable housing. “People who work here can live here.”

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said the law will not “open the floodgates” for dense development. For the first five years, it is limited to a pilot project “subject to an array of laws.” And it’s consistent with the Comprehensive Plan in regard to housing and land use.

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said when she hears about what’s being built in other parts of Kitsap County compared with what’s being built on BI, she “wonders who we are serving. Most of the people against this already have housing.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said because it’s an affordable housing project it’s not going to be a money maker for the church. The benefit is going to be for the community. As for the need for rentals, she said that can be asked for later in the process. “We need something rather than nothing to happen,” she said. “It still might not pencil out.”

Moriwaki added that type of housing is needed so badly. “We’re so far behind on inventory.”

Two people spoke during public comments.

Kent Scott said because it’s an island environmental resources here are finite. He said 600 people signed a petition asking the council to reject the law to prevent urban sprawl. It would be a “large wart on the face of the island.”

Jonathan Davis, the architect on the project, said it’s close to town, 10 schools are within a mile, and there are parks and a transportation hub to the ferry. “It’s a great place to build affordable housing.”

The most recent changes made in the ordinance include making Bethany a pilot project until Dec. 31, 2027, when at that time it would apply to other religious organizations. It also becomes a conditional use permit. In the future, the bonus density will differ depending on location. The housing must remain affordable (80% of median family income) for 99 years. Size is limited to 14,000 square feet.