Parking continues to be a major concern about the Wintergreen Townhomes affordable housing project as hearing examiner Andrew Reeve goes over documents and testimony before making a decision.
Even attorney Hayes Gori, a partner with David Smith in the Central Highlands project, said at last week’s hearing that he wants the parking plan to work as it’s a major selling point for potential buyers.
Smith said the parking won’t be as bad as some people think because Virginia Mason next door is taking up some spaces with tents due to COVID-19 testing. Another problem is people parking there to avoid paying ferry parking fees.
“Ferry poachers are part of the overflow problem,” he said, adding there needs to be enforcement of unauthorized vehicles.
Gori added he looked at the Virgina Mason lot on a recent workday afternoon, and it was only about half full.
Betsy Braun of Virginia Mason said many people are not going to medical visits due to COVID concerns, but that will pick up once that situation is better under control. “Actually many people avoid going to the doctor under COVID,” she said.
She said while they support the housing project, they want an enforceable parking agreement with Wintergreen. She said when Virginia Mason came to that location it was with the agreement that parking stalls would be shared during peak times. “That won’t happen with residential homes unless stipulations are made,” she said, adding at times they need more than the 100 spaces they have.
Braun said the 1.3 parking spaces per Wintergreen unit may be fine in the future when people have fewer vehicles, but it’s not enough now. “I do hope our future will be greener,” she said.
Gori said he hopes to come up with an agreement with Virginia Mason. “We want to be good neighbors,” he said, adding Central Highlands has gone above and beyond parking requirements by adding 23 extra spaces.
During public comments, many others also were concerned about parking.
William O’Neill, who lives in an adjacent residential area called Stonecrest, said they already deal with spillover parking from Virginia Mason. He said even though some Wintergreen units have garages they are often used for storing things instead of parking. He recommended cutting back on the number of units to provide more parking.
Vicki Clayton in written comments came out even stronger. She said lack of parking warrants denial of the project. She said there is a shortfall of 70-plus spaces. “That will lead to permanent neighborhood conflict between the residents of Wintergreen Townhomes and their adjoining commercial and residential neighbors,” she wrote.
Linda Andrews, also of Stonecrest, added, “Dedicated parking is a must.”
Reeve pointed out that the city Planning Commission agreed to approval of Wintergreen but stipulated a parking agreement was needed as one of its conditions.
City engineer Paul Nyland said they can do more than that—requiring a parking agreement with its commercial neighbors as a condition of approval.
Other public comments
Most of the other comments favored the development.
Denise Schouten complimented the design of the townhomes and the landscaping. She also appreciated the public art that would displayed, adding it’s “not just nice” to have art, but that it has a positive impact on communities. “Art is in Bainbridge’s DNA.”
Dawn Janow liked the location, as it’s close to the Sound to Olympic Trail and Sakai Park.
In written comments, Karen Conoley wrote that more affordable housing is needed for teachers, nurses, seniors and hourly wage workers who are “priced out of living in our community.”
Catherine Freudenberg agreed. “We are in dire need of all housing, not just affordable.” She likes the location off Highway 305 and High School Road as it’s near schools, services and transit. “Developers jumped through many hoops. Every time one concern was addressed, the city presented a new hurdle,” she said.
Phedra Elliott of Housing Resources Bainbridge, another project partner, said BI is in “desperate need of affordable housing.” HRB will own the land, but buyers will own the housing and “profit from homeownership.” When anyone in the 31 affordable homes sells them it must be to a qualified buyer.
Playing devil’s advocate, Reeve questioned what if DRB or the other affordable housing partner, Housing Kitsap, cease to exist? “It’s the doom and gloom only an attorney thinks of.”
Kelly Tayara of the city planning department said language in the agreement could make sure that other affordable housing entities could take it over to make sure the housing remains affordable in perpetuity.
Another critical comment came from Linda Andrews, who suggested that provisions must be made to limit buyers renting out units and to make sure Home Owners Association fees are high enough to maintain the property.
Wintergreen is a 74 townhome project on almost 3 acres in the mixed-use Wintergreen Center with Key Bank, Walgreen’s and Virginia Mason.
Tayara said during the long process other public concerns included traffic, noise and light pollution, and a low quality of life due to overcrowding. A buffer from the highway was increased from 35 to 50 feet to make that major DRB concern a moot point.
Nyland brought up that a pedestrian crossing to McDonald’s was not needed because of the underutilized nearby light at Highway 305.
He also mentioned the goal of gaining an easement from the state Department of Transportation that would allow a pedestrian trail from Wintergreen to that intersection. “That could be hard to get,” Reeve said.
Nyland said that effort will be made to the “maximum extent possible,” but not required. David Greetham, also of the planning department, said WSDOT could say no. “They can’t control the outcome,” he said of the developers. “That’s real-world practicality.”
Gori added, “We’ll give it our best effort.”
The attorney said 31 of the homes are for low income when only about seven needed to be to qualify as affordable housing. “We meet the need that has been identified,” he said.
Gori also said the project meets requirements of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. “This is a bulls-eye,” he said. “We made concessions to make this work. Affordable housing is not easily done.”
He added there has been a lot of positive support for the project—about a 4-to-1 ratio. “There’s really been a dramatic amount of support,” he said.
Reeve said the project is “a lot for me to take in,” but he hopes his team can have a decision before the holidays.