As a matter of law, Bainbridge Island is a city. As a matter of fact, though, much of it looks like countryside, with farms, fields and forests dominating much of the landscape outside of Winslow.
But like every place else, the island is growing, and no matter how we plan our growth, some of it will inevitably push into those presently empty spaces.
The view in some quarters seems to be that our island character can and should be preserved by regulation that would “stop” or at least slow down development. But our neighbors have rights too — rights to sell their property and rights to develop it. And the fact is, folks from elsewhere have a right to move here, just like we have a right to leave. So efforts to preserve open space by regulation are likely to get swatted aside by the courts.
With the open space levy, though, the city is taking a different tack altogether, trying to create a fund of money that can be used to buy the amenity that most islanders say they want. If the measure receives a 60 percent “yes” vote, the city will have an $8 million pot of money available to pursue open-space land purchases as the opportunities arise.
As the measure’s backers point out, the money can be stretched quite a lot through grants from private foundations and the state and federal government.
“There is a lot of money out there, but it all requires matching funds,” said measure supporter Neil Johannsen, who has spent his career in parks management.
The measure would add something less than 15 cents to the property tax paid on each $100 of value — barely half the combined tab for the Grand Forest and Gazzam Lake purchases, both of which are nearly paid off.
Opponents have cited Bainbridge’s relatively low density, and questioned the need for more purely open space. But that density may not last forever. When the Growth Management Hearings Board examined the island’s Comprehensive Plan, it approved the concept of a densely populated Winslow and a less-populated outlying area, but only so long as Bainbridge could absorb its anticipated growth within that framework. The board warned that at some point in the future — hopefully distant — Bainbridge may have to increase density in the outlying areas if that is what is required to make room for the people who want to live here.
If open space is what we want, and there seems to be little doubt about that, there’s only one sure way to get it. That is to buy it. Believing that all manner of help — heavenly and otherwise — is available to those who help themselves, we urge a “Yes” vote on the open-space proposal.