The Winslow Hotel seemingly jumped through all the hoops, but the Bainbridge Island City Council found a loophole.
The developers missed one of the hoops.
And the court of public opinion proved to be more powerful than Kitsap County Superior Court as the council voted against the Winslow Hotel 4-3 Tuesday night.
Since they hadn’t applied for a building permit yet a code change the council made to temporarily prohibit hotels downtown will apply to the Winslow Hotel. Previously, because the developers won a Superior Court challenge, and made it all the way through the planning commission, hearing examiner and other city government hoops, it looked like the Winslow Hotel was a go.
Because so many Islanders strongly opposed the Winslow Hotel, a council-planning commission subcommittee was set up to make sure that would never happen again.
Deputy Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos, who was on that subcommittee, said the loophole “Sounds like a gotcha.” Since developers didn’t apply for the permit, “I found a way to stop it.” The intent of the subcommittee was to limit and set guidelines for future hotels, not the Winslow one. “The project went through the process.” The subcommittee wanted to fix things in the code that were causing problems so future hotels would be built the way the city wanted.
Hytopoulos said she, just like most of the council, didn’t particularly like the Winslow Hotel. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to reverse” the intent of the process. She said while the majority on the island may feel like they’ve won, many others will feel like they can’t trust the city or its staff. “It’s adding to the reputation that this city can’t do anything.”
Councilmembers Joe Deets and Leslie Schneider also were in the minority vote. “This has nothing to do with the Winslow Hotel to me,” Deets said. “This is not how we do things.
Schneider added: “People who play by the rules shouldn’t have the rules changed at the last minute. I don’t think it’s fair for the council to step in now and change the rules. Moving the goal posts to me — that’s what this is about.”
Councilmember Christy Carr voted with the majority and was on the subcommittee, but she didn’t speak.
The others who voted in favor — Mayor Rasham Nassar and Councilmembers Michael Pollock, who also was on the subcommittee, and Brenda Fantroy-Johnson, played down the building permit loophole.
Nassar said without the building permit the Winslow Hotel was never really approved. Pollock agreed. So nothing is retroactive. They also agreed that the community does not want a large hotel downtown. “This represents the will of the community,” Pollock said.
Fantroy-Johnson added, “It’s what the community really wanted. If we know they don’t want it, why do it?”
Saying she knows the city is as risk of a lawsuit from the developers, Nassar said: “There’s always a risk. We can’t ever make everybody happy. But if we want to take control of our future we have to be willing to face the music.”
The mayor agreed it’s a matter of trust, but from a different angle. “Our highest obligation is to the people. We have to vote what the community values.”
During public comments, the majority actually said while they didn’t particularly like the Winslow Hotel they thought it wasn’t fair to change the rules, but the code needed to be fixed so future hotels would be more what the city wants.
Bob Russell said there needs to be a “clear and predictable process for anyone to follow.” Developers need to know if they follow the outline they will get the permit.
Vickie Clayton said the Winslow Hotel “is really a done deal. That’s over. We can’t go backwards. The developer has done his job under the existing ordinance. It’s not appropriate to change it after the fact.”
Whitney Lane said she wished more attention had been paid to the Winslow Hotel process. Traffic and parking alone are enough to put her against it.
Robin Simmons and Pascal Shoebach were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Simmons said the community was demoralized when it lost the Superior Court case. “We had spoken out in force,” she said. Things got better when the committee was created. “Wow, you listened and took our concerns seriously. Democracy is really working,” she said. “We want collaboration between citizens and representatives. How responsive is council willing to be to citizen concerns?”
Shoebach actually liked the Winslow Hotel idea. “It would help strengthen the resilency of our community,” he said of the potential tourist destination. He said the project had been approved through the existing process, and it would be unfair to a lot of people who took a lot of steps if the project was now denied. “Focus on changing the future; those are ones we can change.”