Streetscape roils citizens

Debate over plans is robust.

Debate over plans is robust.

Monday’s Winslow Way Streetscape meeting was one of the last chances for public input on the overhaul of the island’s most iconic avenue.

More than 60 people attended the heated meeting at City Hall, and attendees were boiling over with criticism, suggestions and frustrations over proposed funding schemes and the impact on lower wage earners.

The meeting seemed to start even before it was called to order.

“It sure beats the hell out of apathy,” one public works official said.

After a general review by the city’s Streetscape manager Chris Wierzbicki, community members broke into three focus groups that discussed financing, budget and design. Most citizens huddled around the financing and budget areas, where discussions had to be calmed to the chime of “one at a time.”

“Our group felt a general unfairness of fee allocation,” said council candidate Hilary Franz, of financing proposed as part of the 2008-2013 capital facilities plan. “We all benefit from a downtown because we all use it.”

Much of the proposed funding for improvements would come from revenue bonds to be repaid by increased utility fees.

The highest fees would be paid by those customers on the city’s water and sewer system. Those residents, primarily in the Winslow area, could be charged up to $39.20 per month for the next 20 years. Households off of the city sewer and water lines would only have to pay $8.30 per month for the city’s surface water management model.

Finance group members floated the idea of a temporary sales tax for Winslow businesses, and a voter-approved levy – which could set back the project’s completion date, increasing costs by roughly $2-$3 million a year.

Those ideas had some support, but were generally deemed too costly and untimely. A rough vote of members at the financing discussion found that many wanted the project to be paid through councilmanic, non-voter-approved bonds.

Another point was to increase the fees for new connections to the city’s sewage and water systems, fees that currently exceed $4,000 per new connection. City finance director Elray Konkel said that option is already scheduled for review, but would not significantly dent the estimated $20.6 million downtown project.

Advocates at the design circle wanted a more clearly defined vision for Bjune Drive as either a pedestrian or traffic corridor. Other ideas included an arts area at the former site of the Unocal station at Winlsow Way/305, adding more bicycle parking, and finding ways to use natural drainage systems.

Citizens at the budget discussion were concerned about non-downtown residents paying for downtown upgrades and how delays would not only cost more money but will delay other projects like a new Senior Center.

The Streetscape committee has already heeded many suggestions from the public, cutting new tree plantings by 30 percent to increase parking and visibility and rejecting the realignment of Ericksen and Bjune which would have cost nearly $3 million.

Concerns over unique art along Winslow Way are also being addressed by the Public Arts Committee and the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association, who are examining each piece for removal, relocation or re-commissioning.

On Oct. 18, the Streetscape committee will present their final framework for the project. For city staff, who praised the amount of public input, it is almost time for the community to entrust the vision of Winslow to the city.

“It’s not an easy thing to trust government,” Wierzbicki said. “You have to trust us and make sure you understand what we’re doing and why.”