Inns in trouble on BI

Council wants to contemplate them during moratorium

There is no room at the inn.

Despite that, the Bainbridge Island City Council stuck with its emergency moratorium on building new inns during its meeting Jan. 24. People who spoke at a public hearing were evenly split. But the council was set on standing pat, wanting to delay any inns until it can look at the code in-depth.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopolous said even though there is only one inn proposal in the works the council is not against it per se. The issue is city code that needs to be enforced. She was involved in establishing the code a dozen years ago. It limited inns to 15 rooms for a reason. They didn’t want hotels of more than 15 rooms.

But building inns side by side, as is what has happened at Lynwood Center, has in essence created a hotel. “It’s about public trust,” she said, adding the city is often criticized for not enforcing code. She said Neighborhoods Centers, such as Lynwood, were set up for housing residents, with some commercial so people wouldn’t have to travel to Winslow. “There are lots of businesses there already,” she said, adding the goal is not to have businesses that bring in tourists.

Councilmember Joe Deets agreed. “Housing is our focus,” he said, adding that is a prime location because it has utilities.

Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the council has to do what’s best for the community. “We only have so much land on the island. We can’t rush into things. We need to step back and see if this is what we want.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said she also is not against the one inn that’s proposed. However, she said the city should be open to developers who can come up with ideas for net-zero car, such as using a shuttle to avoid increases in vehicle trips. “Their legacy is not what they build, but what they do for climate change.”

Greg Gustafson asked during the public hearing why opposition wasn’t brought up until 10 months after the project was submitted, adding there were mutiple meetings advancing the process during that time. He said the project is not a hotel. It is legal within the code that allows one inn per parcel. It’s 15 rooms on 2.5 acres. It is small, quaint and fits in scale with the rest of the community. There is distance and buffers between the inns. There is one management company, but that also is legal. Gustafson said the land was purchased with this development in mind. If it’s not allowed another option could be permanent housing costing $2 million each, requiring removal of more trees and bringing more traffic.

Joe Raymond said the project includes three 2-bedroom cottages with “charm and elegance” that are affordable housing units supported by Housing Resources Bainbridge.

Kelly McDonald said the John Jacoby family combined the two in the project because both are needed on the island. There is no place to stay at Island Center during wedding season, so people have to drive all over. She said another inn would provide more jobs, more tax money and likely would expand their free shuttle service from the ferry dock to Lynwood Center, reducing car trips. She called the project a “clever idea. It’s only feasible in conjunction with the inn,” she said of the affordable housing.

Sarah Blossom was obviously taken aback by their comments. “It’s a hotel,” she said of what would be three inns close together. She said the affordable housing aspect was not even part of the presentation during that 10-month period. She said a hotel on Winslow also added an affordable housing aspect when its effort was in jeopardy. It must be what’s done “when a developer is at risk,” she said. She added the Jacoby family, and the entire Lynwood Center, is a great area. “It’s not about the quality of the development; it’s about the use.”

Mary McLaughlin was just as frank, saying affordable housing is being used as a “catchphrase so if you question or argue you’re a bad guy.”

Michael Swank chimed in, “Affordable housing clouds the issue.” He said Lynwood Center is already too congested with traffic, making it unsafe for bicycling. He said it keeps growing with no improvements to infrastructure such as sewer, water and roads. He said the city’s Comprehensive Plan doesn’t allow for it to become a destination resort for people coming in off-island. “It’s time for the city to stop and pause.”

Which is what it did.

Open government

Residents Lisa and Chris Neal over the past few weeks brought up that BI was trying to keep the public out of having input on the revised Winslow SubArea Plan. During public comments Jan. 24 Lisa Neal said the city tried to change its code without going through the proper process. She said city staff and consultants were trying to control who would have input “behind closed doors.”

City manager Blair King said that was not the intent. Almost exactly a year ago the council voted to exclude the Winslow SubArea Plan process from code to actually get more input. It plans to reach out to stakeholders, business owners, community organizations, public agencies, community members and advisory groups. It also plans to reach out to historically underrepresented groups that have had barriers in interacting with the city. Looking at it through an equity lens will ensure that Blacks, Indigenous, people of color, non-English speaking, poor, families with young children, youth, seniors and the disabled will all be heard, a memo from Blair says. Not just in Winslow but elsewhere on BI there will be surveys, workshops and open houses for public input.

Blair added at the meeting something that he has said many times that he knows how important the public process is to this community and the council. He said a draft of his public engagement memo will be brought to the council. But before that, the planning commission will discuss it, and there will be a public hearing before it returns to the council. “The council’s in charge. It’s not hamstrung in any way,” he said, adding they were just thinking of using a wider approach to obtaining input, rather than having just a select few on a committee.

“I voted for more freedom, a more robust process,” Hytopoulos said. But we “probably made a mistake by leaving a void in the code.” She added she is concerned there is not enough public input early on, but will be more comfortable when something is put back into the code on public engagement.

The issue will be discussed again at the next council meeting Feb. 14.

Public comment

A number of different topics were discussed on topics not on the agenda. Many were on the nonmotorized transportation paths from Wyatt Avenue to Eagle Harbor. Some were concerned about so much money being spent without input from experts.

“These are high-cost choices that will impact us for decades,” Susan Loftus said. She suggested, and two who commented later agreed, that putting two-way traffic on one side of the road would be a great idea in an area so narrow. That would require less right of way and the same number of road crossings that there are in the current city plan. She also advised that phasing in the project in three stages would spread out the cost.

Alyse Nelson agreed it needs to be the best it can be so the maximum number of people can use it as it will connect a lot of the island. She said there are great tools out there to help, and options that can be done “without breaking the bank.” Fran Korten agreed it needs to benefit the whole community, not just current bicyclists. She said all ages and abilities won’t feel safe with just a white stripe separating them from traffic. “What is needed is real protection.”

Peter Harris and Richard Potter were more in favor of getting it done. Harris said BI should be more interested in the safety of those who will use the path rather than thinking mostly about the comfort (safety) of those who possibly could use it maybe at some time. Potter said the main thing holding the project back from being better is money, and the city recently had $5 million extra in savings that should be used for the project.

On other topics, Mark Wilson said city code protects water views from being blocked by immovable objects like fences. But he would like added to that movable items such as basketball hoops, motor homes and backhoes that might be placed to block views out of “spite.” Two others complained about city stormwater flooding areas at Manitou Beach, causing landscape damage and transportation woes, especially during King Tides.