Growing concerns about BI population

Population growth is a controversial issue on Bainbridge Island – not only among residents but on the City Council, too.

The council discussed growth at its meeting last week.

“This matters to the community – a lot,” Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said, adding BI should not be pressured by outside sources into growing “contrary to our interests.”

She was referring to the state Growth Management Act that requires communities to grow but in a managed way. BI and other communities in Kitsap County work with the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council on the numbers.

Deputy Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said while not being pushed around BI still “can’t think we’re in a bubble. We do not want to get into a fist ight over this,” but we need to take our fair share of growth.

Hytopoulos said others may think of BI has acting elitest for not wanting growth, but population needs to be held in check due to a lack of some resources such as water. “We have a moral obligation to the region,” she said. “To me it’s a balancing act – negotiate the smallest number possible.”

The GMA requires Comprehensive Plans to be updated every eight years. The plans are crafted 20 years into the future for land use, transportation and other capital facilities. 20-year employment and population forecasts are generated at the countywide level, and growth is divided up.

BI is identified as one of four High Capacity Transit Communities, which are to accommodate 36% of the county’s growth, along with Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Kingston. Only metro (Bremerton) and core (Silverdale) cities are expected to grow more in population and jobs.

As part of the planning process, each city must accommodate needs that will accompany growth including medical, governmental, institutional, commercial, service, retail and other nonresidential uses.

In setting the number, BI looked at its traditional growth of about 1% a year over a comparable amount of time, King said.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said: “I care about the fairness aspect, but I care more about planning for realistic growth. We need to make better use of our resources all the way around.”

Schneider said of the four high-capacity cities, BI is only expected to take 15% of that growth. But much of that is targeted in rural areas. “That’s kind of a disaster,” she said. “We want funnel growth to Winslow.” She said the city will have to upzone to get growth where it wants it, but that actually could lead to more growth than expected there.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said BI is expected to grow by roughly 4,500, which is a small portion of the 29,000 the four high-capacity cities are expected to grow. “We have to carry our weight,” he said. “The number is not dangerous. We don’t want to dicker over the number at this point. What’s dangerous is if we don’t grow the way we want.”

City manager Blair King pointed out that BI doesn’t get to decide the number on its own. It has to work with the county and other cities. He said he doesn’t expect the process to be “kumbaya. There’s going to be some cat fighting.”

Mayor Joe Deets said he doesn’t know “how well we’re going to play together,” but since the new population number is only 700 more than what was approved years ago, “This not not a tough decision for me.” But, “We want growth on our terms.”

Deets asked if BI could be outvoted by the others in what it needs to take. King said BI has just one vote, but senior planner Jennifer Sutton said other cities have shown interest in taking more growth.

Interim city planning director Mark Hoffman said as long as cities in their category are heading toward the overall goal there can be flexibility in individual numbers.

Sophie Glass of the coordinating council said: “You need to work it out. What are you doing to get closer to the numbers?”

The Puget Sound Regional Council will decide what will occur if numbers aren’t met, she added. The coordinating council will review the numbers March 15.

The four cities also are expected to grow 32% of the jobs. Hytopoulos was concerned since she represents BI on the coordinating council that they didn’t discuss jobs. But Hoffman said he expects the discussion next week to focus on population.

“Employment numbers are trailing right now” the goals previously set for BI, King said, adding bigger cities should host the majority of jobs. “Bainbridge Island is not a major employer,” he said, adding towns near the Navy base should take most of the responsibility for employment.