For nearly eight hours, Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Ted Hunter heard how the Winslow Hotel would be a perfect fit for downtown Winslow — but also how it wouldn’t.
A crowd of more than a hundred packed the council chambers at Bainbridge Island City Hall late last week for the much-anticipated final public hearing on the Winslow Hotel, a controversial 87-room overnight facility proposed for two lots on the western end of the city’s main drag.
Hunter made his way through 18 pages of names of people wanting to testify on the project during a day marked by two disparate views of the hotel proposal, with many saying it would ruin Bainbridge’s small-town charm, while others supported the hotel and said it should be approved.
Most of those who spoke opposed the hotel, and said it would increase problems with parking and traffic in Winslow, as well as disturb those who live in the downtown area with the noise of delivery trucks and garbage haulers.
At the start of the hearing, city staff gave a broad outline of their review of the project and the conditions imposed on the project that led to an approval recommendation from the city’s planning director.
Representatives for Madison Avenue Development, the Bainbridge-based firm led by Mike Burns that hopes to build the full-service hotel, said the project will fit with the downtown, with Bainbridge Island’s call for sustainability, and follow the inspiration that comes from its location in the Pacific Northwest.
Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, an attorney for the developer, noted that much misinformation has been spread about the project on social media and said they were eager to dispel false claims that had been made.
That brought a quick and quippy response from Hunter, and one of the scattered light moments during a morning session largely made up of technical discussion of the specifics of the proposal.
“Isn’t that the role of social media?” Hunter asked, drawing laughter from the capacity crowd in council chambers at city hall.
Rogers recounted how the project had earned an unanimous vote from the city’s Design Review Board, despite what’s been alleged online.
“It has not been revoked in any way,” Rogers said of the DRB decision.
She added that the project met or exceeded development rules the city has adopted.
“We’re not doing anything outside the code with this project,” Rogers said.
Burns, the owner of Madison Avenue Development, countered the notion that the hotel was being built for the benefit of people who don’t live on Bainbridge.
The hotel has been designed around a coastal redwood, a 125-year-old and 104-foot-tall sequoia that will serve as a focal point for the hotel, its inner courtyard and the hotel-room views of guests staying there.
The hotel will celebrate Bainbridge Island and its culture, added Burns, a 35-year resident of the island who also owns a sustainable fishery business based in Alaska.
Winslow Hotel will be an “authentic Bainbridge” place, he said, elegant but comfortable.
“It will be grand but not pretentious,” Burns said.
Proponents of the hotel spent much of the morning describing their efforts to meet the sustainability goals of the Living Building Challenge, and how the hotel will generate much of the gray water needed for the development by capturing rainwater, how sewage will be treated onsite, and how large arrays of solar panels will be installed on the hotel’s roof to provide electricity for the lodging facility.
Rogers, an attorney for Madison Avenue Development, presented the hearing examiner with a 19-page legal brief devoted to defending the project.
In the brief, Rogers said the hearing examiner should reject the planning commission’s recommendation on the project, which said it should be rejected, and instead consider the thumbs up the project got from the city’s Design Review Board.
The planning commission came to “erroneous conclusions” on the hotel, Rogers wrote, and said the commission’s view that the hotel was too large was in conflict with state law.
While some have pointed to the city’s municipal code that allows 15-room inns in the downtown core as proof that the hotel is oversized, Rogers said the code does not limit the number of rooms for a downtown hotel, and that if the city wanted to limit the size of hotels in Winslow, the council would have adopted a size limit in its development regulations.
Rogers also said that because the opponents of the hotel had withdrawn their challenge to the city’s environmental review of the project, that the issues of noise, lighting and traffic had been settled and were beyond review.
Still, in her legal brief, Rogers noted that the amount of traffic that would be generated by the project — an estimated 727 vehicle trips per day — was based on a traffic study that was based on a worst-case scenario.
Contrary to claims by opponents of the hotel, the traffic study did take into account “surges” caused by cars coming off the ferry, as well as trips to the hotel that may be generated by the restaurant and banquet rooms in the facility.
Rogers also noted that assessing traffic impacts came under the authority of city’s planning director, and not the planning commission, and that the planning chief had determined no significant adverse impacts from traffic were found.
What’s more, the 727 car trips were just a small part of the traffic that passes through the Winslow Way-Madison Avenue and Highway 305-Madison Avenue intersections, presenting just 4.9 percent and 0.9 percent of the total traffic volume of those crossroads, respectively.
Many of those who testified, however, said the traffic impacts were underestimated, and noted the delays that are often caused by pedestrians downtown.
Officials with established hotels on the island were also opposed to the project.
John Dinsmore, general manager of the Marshal Suites, submitted a letter that said Bainbridge already has adequate overnight facilities for visitors.
In addition to parking and traffic troubles, Dinsmore wrote, the new hotel would compete for workers and would “severely tax a limited pool of hospitality labor.”
Emma Anderson, general manager of Quality Inn & Suites, wrote that the new hotel could have a negative impact and reduce the number of jobs of smaller hospitality facilities on the island as occupancy rates fall after the Winslow Hotel is built.
Many of those who testified worried that noise from hotel operations would disturb those who live in Winslow.
David Bricklin, an attorney hired by opponents to the project, asked the hearing examiner to follow the planning commission’s recommendation and reject the hotel.
He said it would be out of place in Winslow, and noted it would be built on the island’s busiest street.
Bricklin added that the hotel would be six times the size of a 15-room inn, which, unlike the hotel proposal, could be built without a conditional use permit, and he faulted the proponents of the project for not conducting a noise study to determine impacts from the hotel’s operation.
“Noise is a significant issue here,” Bricklin said.
He also criticized the support of the Design Review Board for the hotel, and said the advisory board had “gotten off track” by devoting much of their review of the proposal by considering the environmentally friendly aspirations of the development.
“They seem to have lost their way,” Bricklin said.
The design itself was also faulty, the attorney said, because Bainbridge’s development rules require gable-style roofs on developments at the downtown core’s outer edge.
Wendy Hinman said the hotel was just too much for Bainbridge to handle, and noted details on the project had changed over time.
“There’s too many variables and not enough guarantees on this project,” Hinman said.
Others who live near the hotel sight, however, said they supported the proposal.
“I’m feeling very comfortable with having the hotel in my back yard,” said Caroline Clarke. “I think it’s one of the best uses for that space.”
The hearing examiner is expected to make a decision on the hotel by Feb. 12. Hunter gave the project’s developers, and city staff, until Friday, Jan. 31 to submit a response to the testimony and exhibits presented at last Thursday’s hearing.