Winslow residents file lawsuit against city of Bainbridge over Winslow Hotel project

The group of residents that have been fighting the construction of a hotel in downtown Winslow have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Bainbridge Island Hearing Examiner Ted Hunter approved the plans for Winslow Hotel, an 87-room hotel on Winslow Way to be built by Bainbridge-based Madison Avenue Development, in February.

But in the new lawsuit, filed by hotel opponents called Winslow Neighbors, the group claims the hearing examiner wrongly approved the hotel project. They are asking a Superior Court judge to reverse the hearing examiner’s approval of the hotel, and to also award attorney fees and costs to the citizens’ group.

The lawsuit against the hotel came just days before the legal deadline ran out for challenging in court the city decision on the hotel project.

Residents have long fought the plans for the hotel, and last year, the city’s planning commission unanimously voted to recommend denial of the project.

Critics of the hotel have claimed it will add to existing noise, traffic and parking troubles in downtown Winslow, and also allege the hotel will ruin the small-town character of Bainbridge Island.

But in his February decision that gave a green light to the project, Hunter said the hotel project fits with city regulations and Bainbridge’s long-range development plans.

That was also the view from the city professional planning staff and planning director, as well as the city’s Design Review Board, which has said the development complies with the island’s development rules.

Opponents of the hotel have been fundraising for more than a year to pay for legal advice and experts who can help get the project derailed.

Most recently, they announced a $53,400 fundraising goal by April 10, the deadline for a lawsuit, and had nearly hit that amount before the lawsuit against the city was filed April 8 in Port Orchard.

Winslow Neighbors, in its lawsuit, said the hearing examiner was wrong to OK the project, in part because he said city rules that would regulate the project should be viewed with “an attitude of flexibility.”

That echoes the claim made by opponents when Winslow Neighbors had asked Hunter, the city’s hearing examiner, in early March to reconsider his approval of the hotel project.

Hunter rejected that challenge March 19, noting that it is “an axiom of administrative law is given to the administrator of the law under review when applying it to a specific application.”

For Bainbridge, Hunter said, that unrivaled position is owned by the city’s planning director, who said she had relied on a flexible interpretation

of the city’s design guidelines when she recommended that the hotel project be approved.

Opponents of the hotel have repeatedly claimed that the roof to the hotel must be built in a pitched style, as it abuts a residential zone on the hotel site’s southern end.

Winslow Neighbors has also noted that a hotel facade would exceed 128 feet in length, which they say runs counter to the city’s development rules.

The developers of the project said a flat roof is needed for solar panels to be installed, and to assist in reclaiming stormwater runoff so rainwater can be reused by the hotel.

Hunter himself noted in his decision on the request for a reconsideration that the 128-foot rule raised by project opponents “appears to be used merely as a tool for the Design Review Board” to use when it looks at a project’s compliance with the city’s adopted design guidelines for downtown Winslow.

Hunter said the 128-foot language on the Design Review Board’s checklist

that it uses to determine consistency for proposed projects was not a requirement that had been actually written into city code, or Bainbridge’s design guideline manual.

And like other descriptions in the city’s design guidelines, Hunter added, opponents have offered “no legal authority” that backs up their allegations “that these guidelines are mandatory and that strict compliance with their terms are required.”

An initial court hearing on the lawsuit has been set for May 22.

Michael Burns, the Bainbridge resident hoping to build the hotel, was also named in the lawsuit, as well as his development company, owner of Madison Avenue Development.

Winslow Neighbors is being represented by attorney David Bricklin, the Bainbridge resident who also led the legal challenge by opponents when the project went before the city hearing examiner for a decision.

The city has initially turned to James “Jim” Haney, an attorney with the Seattle law firm of Ogden, Murphy, Wallace, to defend the city against the lawsuit.

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