The age-old question has been answered: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Well, it was the chicken. At least that was the case at a recent Bainbridge Island Planning Commission meeting. They were discussing a proposed amendment to the BI Comprehensive Plan concerning Lynwood Center.
City staff and Public Works officially came out against the proposal — with the main reason being a lack of sewer capabilities. Most public comments also were against the proposed amendment, with reasons given being transportation, parking, utilities and many other concerns.
Problem is, applicants Jeb and Belinda Thornburg, of Indigo Architecture and Interiors of BI, said the proposal was just an idea, not an actual development plan. They were just trying to lay the foundation for potential growth.
“We want to keep the ball rolling for affordable housing,” he said, adding that without something in the Comp Plan nothing will get done.
Opponents didn’t quite have egg on their faces, but they did take a step back.
Thornburg said the concept is for the Comp Plan to allow Floor Area Ratio instead of units per acre in BI’s three neighborhood centers — Lynwood, Island and Rolling Bay. FAR is what is used in Winslow. The change would allow more dense development in those centers targeted for growth so BI avoids sprawl.
He said FAR zoning promotes smaller-scale housing that is more affordable. Current zoning supports larger, high-end units. FAR would allow people who work here to live here, it supports local businesses and is good for the environment because it reduces off-island commuting.
His partner said current zoning is a roadblock to affordable housing. Under discussion were two vacant properties totaling about 4 acres. Under current zoning, only 18 units would be allowed. She added that if the constraints aren’t set aside, outcomes that are best for the community won’t be able to happen.
Their application was just an example of a way BI could expand its housing options. The actual Comp Plan amendment leaders decide on would allow the city to research the best route to go.
Thornburg got choked up talking about the need. He said his mom had to move away from BI not only because she couldn’t afford to live here, but because she was looked down on because of her economic situation.
He said it was uncomfortable for him to talk about growth at Lynwood Center because he lives there, and many of his neighbors don’t want it. But he said people on BI have an abundance of wealth compared to people in the rest of the world.
Senior planner Jennifer Sutton started the meeting off saying Comp Plan amendments can be proposed every three years. Five amendments have been brought forward. A public hearing on all five will take place Oct. 27.
City staff, not realizing it wasn’t actually a firm proposed amendment, recommended denial to the Planning Commission. The reason was the city does not own a sewer treatment facility in that area, so it is not in control of adding sewer connections. It did recommend that the city consider how sewer service could be expanded to that area in the future.
In its analysis, the city also said the zoning changes would not adversely affect utilities, transportation, parks or schools. It said the city is planning 6-foot-wide bicycle lanes on both sides of Lynwood Center to improve transportation options.
Paul Nyland, city engineering manager, said the area is served by the Kitsap County Sewer District. He added that the City Council has directed city manager Blair King to try to get 100 more hookups from them, but nothing has been purchased so far. He said he’s not sure what their capacity is at Fort Ward.
Nyland said while he likes the idea of talking to the sewer district, “I don’t want to write a check my boss can’t cash.”
He “took literally” the applicant’s proposal and wanted to deny the project because it would have increased allowable housing units from 18 to 183 — a 600 percent increase on those 4 acres.
“Don’t get hung up on the extreme,” Thornburg said, again saying it was just an idea to keep the discussion going on density and affordable housing. “We’re not going to build 100 homes tomorrow.”
Regarding the sewage issue, Thornburg said Sewer District 7 won’t expand until the demand is there. He said they won’t act just on potential. A developer would want to show a project would be able to pay for sewer improvements to get service. The more units built, the more people would share the cost.
Planning Commissioner Sarah Blossom said she sees the potential of the vision. She said there are few places in that area where density could be increased. She said it needs to be planned carefully because they don’t want a proposal that won’t fit the neighborhood.
Regarding sewer, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” she said, adding they can’t allow that to stop their planning for the future.
Planning Commissioner Ashley Mathews asked if city staff could recommend approval or denial before their next meeting with the changes in the language being more general rather than the more-specific proposed amendment.
Sutton said they could. She added a Comp Plan amendment would be needed to change the zoning in neighborhood centers to FAR. “Measures would need to be taken to meet those needs.”