It was brutal.
The Bainbridge Island Design Review Board thoroughly criticized an affordable housing project Monday proposed by Central Highland Inc.
The 77-townhouse multifamily development was suggested to be built between Walgreens and Virginia Mason at the corner of Highway 305 and High School Road.
“It’s shocking; a dirth of imagination,” Laurel Wilson said.
“Looks like a motel,” Vicki Clayton said.
Joe Dunstan said: “Work on the aesthetics. Just because they don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the very best type of housing.”
Bob Russell said he didn’t see anything in the plans that looks like the character of Bainbridge. “I don’t see that in this design.”
Todd Thiel called the development, “Thoughtless. Your designs are purely economic driven. It’s Bavarian on steroids.”
Developer David Smith took offense to that, saying he didn’t want to work with someone “as rude as you are.”
His attorney, Gori Hayes, chimed in, “That’s not very professional.”
Shawn Parks said later that he took offense earlier in the meeting when Smith tried to strong arm them.
“It’s this plan or nothing,” Dunstan said of their intentions.
Smith had said that if the board did not give them a positive sign about the project “today, we’ll go, and the project’s dead.”
To which Dunstan responded: “We’re still working on concepts; what works for everybody.”
Hayes added: “The clock’s ticking. Time is of the essence.”
He said investors need to put up some money that would not be refundable. “Affordable housing is needed on Bainbridge Island.”
It was mentioned that buyers of affordable housing units would actually work on them, such as by painting, after they are built to keep costs down.
“That’s great. That’s a hot ticket in Bainbridge. But the quality still needs to be there,” Parks said, adding natural spaces are needed.
Hayes said, “Housing prices are insane” on Bainbridge. “Where else on Bainbridge” can a person find housing” for $300,000 to $400,000?
“These are cool units. Very hip. They don’t feel cramped,” Hayes said.
Dunstan said the density isn’t the problem. It’s the layout.
“A more creative plan but the same number of units,” he said, adding it needs to be more pedestrian friendly.
He didn’t like the linear look of the buildings, basically five long rows of townhouses. He said views of the buildings would mainly be parking.
The developers had a solution for that. They wanted to lessen the amount of open space near Highway 305 and put it east of a row of townhouses to make the development more open and appealing. Board member Michael Loverich said he wouldn’t be in favor of that.
Smith then said they’d be willing to take some units out of the middle to break up the long buildings.
“I’m looking for articulation; more character, that’s all,” Russell said, adding things like overhangs would help.
Dunstan added, “Some design flairs, different colors, different materials.”
At one point, Smith lashed out: “You don’t want this project.” He said it would no longer be affordable if developers had to do everything the board wanted them to.
Dunstan said he would determine what would make a quality project. “We’re not trying to stop this project at all,” he said.
Dunstan later said no one on the board is really against the project. They just want Highland to be willing to work with them to make it more pleasing on a “human scale.”
Board members said Highland needs to look closer at the city’s book on design standards. There’s a checklist they need to adhere to.
“I hope they come back and work with us,” Dunstan said.
Still, Wilson and Clayton had other concerns.
“I worry about 77 cars coming out” onto High School Road, Wilson said.
Parking is another concern. Many of the units have garages, but she said those will be used for storage because the units are small.
“People will need the space for their own lives,” she said.
Clayton was also concerned about traffic. “We’re setting up Virginia Mason for a real problem,” she said.
Resident Jon Quitslund, an affordable housing advocate, said: “This makes me very sad. I hope we don’t run aground.”
The Wintergreen Townhomes would have 25 of 35 houses on the east side being affordable in the $300,000 range. They would be two story with outside parking. All the other homes would be three story, with a garage underneath. They would be in the $439,000 range.
Earlier plans for the site included commercial businesses and later up to 120 multi-story apartments with businesses on the lower level.
The shopping center was controversial when first proposed in 2013. The plan included a 61,890-square-foot development with retail including a drug store, restaurants, professional services and health care facilities. Many residents were opposed since it would mean clear-cutting and loss of a large forest along Highway 305.
Prior to that discussion, city arborist Nick Snyder talked with the board.
Dunstan said the city should encourage planting of native trees.
Snyder said he would rather homeowners choose what kind of tree they want in their yard. “They’ll take better care of it than if” I forced them to have a particular tree, he said.
Parks said fines should be higher for developers who take out trees they aren’t supposed to. “Money is the only thing they respond to,” he said.
Snyder said he is more focused on education, but Parks responded historically developers haven’t responded to that.
Snyder said the city’s ability to fine folks is limited.
“Nick, that surprises me, and not in a good way,” Mayor Leslie Schneider said, adding the City Council also would be surprised. “Let me know if you want me to get involved.”