Archive for February, 2016

IMG_2996 Next week the City Council will start talking about what they want to do with the Suzuki property. There are four proposals on the table, ranging from transferring the land for free to the Parks Department, to selling it for as much as $2.6 million for higher-density development that includes at least some affordable housing. The process has generated strong opinion, because our community (and our Comprehensive Plan) place so much value on the seemingly contradictory goals of environmental stewardship and affordable housing.  In a recent interview with Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, the City’s Interim Planning Director, Joe Tovar, hit the nail on the head when he said, “So you’ve got those two things that, in the abstract, are very high rank order public policy priorities for people here on the island.”

In the abstract. Yes, of course.

People come down on the side of either pro-housing or pro-preservation (sometimes trying to split the baby by saying, “I do believe in affordable housing, just not here,” though the specific location of Not Here remains elusive). We collect data and studies about ecological value, species counts, aquifer recharge and the significance of trees, wetlands and pond. The other side counters with data and studies about housing costs, the benefits to kids from lower-income homes when they live in more affluent communities, and the heavier traffic from people who work on Bainbridge Island but must commute from off-island. A third view talks about missing middles, and the need for a wholesome refuge for island kids.

Data, careful study and analysis are important as a foundation for our decision-making, but we can’t stop there. We would do well to remember that data and studies are abstractions, in the sense that Tovar observed. Abstractions do not pull us together, but further apart, into the solitary confines of our own mental chatter, beliefs and preoccupations. They often confirm what we already believe. The realities in our community become symbols–abstractions—for global problems. We hunker down to fight the good fight, and solutions get lost in the fight.

When one abstraction collides with another in a seemingly intractable way, a good plan might be to go out into the real world, into the good air, where we know our surroundings bodily, with our eyes, and ears, our skin, our hands and feet.

There, we sense the wholeness and mystery of this Earth. There is no part of the Earth that is not touched by humans. There is no part of the human that is not touched by the Earth. We are already in profoundly consequential relationship with our home, our Mother. We are a crowded planet. Beautiful places that are good places to live become more crowded by the year. We don’t know how to protect our good, beautiful places, where people want to live. We don’t know how to provide decent housing for all people. Like every species, we engage in the daily struggle for survival, and now we face the added challenge of adapting to a changing world not of our own making, and almost entirely outside of our individual control. We are facing the unknown. Old strategies and structures no longer point the way forward.

Neither do questions that pose a false dichotomy: Environment or people? Homes for people of modest means, or homes for non-human species? Development or land preservation? Act now or delay? It is neither possible nor reality-based to try to choose between the natural environment and the fundamental needs of human beings.

For me, a more helpful question might be this: how do we have a relationship of integrity with the Earth and all her creatures, including human creatures, in this place, at this time?

It is not an easy inquiry. It requires a willingness to leave the comfort of already-formed answers. It reminds us that “community” includes all life forms — animals, moss, birds, trees, human beings–and that, as a community, we are accountable to our land, our neighborhoods and to each other. It takes us out of abstraction, and into actual, concrete experience. (more…)

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The City just sent out this press release and the next and last meeting about the Suzuki property, before the Council makes a decision on what to do with the land.

The community is invited to attend a meeting on Tuesday, February 23, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. to provide the City Council with input on four proposals for the Suzuki Property.

The purpose of the meeting on February 23 is to provide the community with an opportunity to share comment and feedback with the City Council on four proposals for the Suzuki Property. The entire two hour meeting that evening will be devoted to providing an opportunity for the public to provide comment. This meeting is the third in a series of community meetings regarding the Suzuki Property that have occurred this year.

The City Council will begin to deliberate next steps regarding the proposals at the Council Meeting on Tuesday, March 8. It is anticipated that the Council will make a decision regarding the future of the property this spring. If the Council decides to move forward with one of the proposals, the City will enter in contract negotiations with the selected team. During those contract negotiations, an agreement will be worked out that will include details about the purchase and sale, as well as additional conditions regarding the development of the property. For example, the City could stipulate additional conditions such as requiring that the selected team host additional community charrettes, requiring environmental protections that would go above and beyond permit requirements, or requirements for affordable housing or community amenities.

For more information on the Suzuki property, and to view the four proposals in their entirety, please visit the Suzuki Property page on the City website. Public comment may be submitted at anytime to pcd@bainbridgwa.gov or council@bainbridgewa.gov

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The second of three meetings about the potential sale or transfer of the City-owned Suzuki property was held last night at City Hall. It started in the packed lobby, where representatives of the four proposals for the Suzuki property had set up displays, and were available for conversation and questions. Quarters were tight, and although some people huddled around the presenters’ tables, many others were crowded out and didn’t even try to approach them. Instead they chatted with friends, neighbors and allies. An open house in a small lobby doesn’t seem to be the best place for real communication about a housing controversy.

The proceedings then moved to Council chambers, where a standing-room-only crowd listened to 15-minute presentations about each of the proposals. The presenters didn’t cover much new ground since speaking in more detail at the first meeting, two weeks ago. The presentations were followed by a series of questions submitted to the City ahead of time, and read to the presenters by the City’s Community Engagement Specialist, Kellie Stickney.

That’s where the meeting started to go south. After about a half hour of questions by Stickney and answers by the developers, Stickney opened the meeting up for questions from the floor. She admonished the crowd to be respectful and to ask questions rather than make their own points. For the most part, the questioners complied. Strangely, the in-person questioners were required to state their names and addresses, while those who submitted written questions—and who were given far more time in the Q&A–remained anonymous. People sitting around me began wondering in not-so-hushed tones whether the questions were prepared by the City itself.

Promptly at 8:30, Stickney announced that the Q&A had concluded, in spite of the fact that numerous people with raised hands had not had a chance to speak. The crowd, which had grown increasingly restive during the Q&A, did not react well. A couple of men shouted that the meeting should continue, and there was widespread grumbling throughout the room. Stickney held firm and ended that portion of the meeting, so people could attend the additional open house which had been scheduled for the end of the meeting. The meeting did not seem to have opened or changed any minds.

Community opposition to affordable housing development is so common that a basic Google search spews out endless papers, analyses and advice pamphlets. You can read about the definitions of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), and how to overcome resistance to change. You will also learn about the recent Supreme Court case Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Projectwhich held that in certain situations, a community can violate the Fair Housing Act, even if it doesn’t intentionally discriminate against minorities, the disabled and other groups, if its housing rules and practices have a “disparate impact” on those groups. That ruling has potential consequences for communities like ours—wealthy, almost all-white suburbs where housing is too expensive for many people to afford. More on that in a future post.

The articles also give advice about how to have real conversations with the community in order to work through concerns and issues. One of the worst ways, according to these articles,  is to have a formal hearing, or other large meeting where people must sit through presentations and speeches, have only a few minutes for questions, and no opportunity for follow-up or dialogue.

Especially dialogue.

Public meetings have always struck me as a place where no one will come away satisfied. Take the ordinary Council meeting where something controversial is being discussed. The very structure guarantees that no one will listen to anyone else, because when people have three minutes at a microphone, they will always take their best shot at making their point, and not waste time worrying about opposing views or, god forbid, coming to consensus. On the other side are the Council members, who have to sit through a barrage of public opinion, sometimes factually off-base and often repetitive, without any opportunity to respond. How often will that change their minds?

Last night’s format was even more futile. It was not a Council meeting, but only a public presentation and open house. Council members were in the audience, but the questions were not directed at them, or at City staff. Ostensibly they were directed to the developers, who repeatedly said they wanted to revise their proposals based on community input. But many of the questions didn’t go to specifics of the developments, but rather to the wisdom of developing the site at all. Allowing more questions from the audience–as patient, polite and deserving of being heard as they were—would have accomplished very little of what is truly needed: conversation, listening, true dialogue. (more…)

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The Kitsap Sun has posted an article tonight saying that the City of Bainbridge Island has released the most recent appraisal on the Suzuki property. The appraisal, done in 2013, found that the 13.83 acre property was worth $2 million. Previously released appraisals, done in 2007 and 2008, valued the property at $3.52 million and $5.4 million, respectively, according to the Sun.

The $5.4 million value from the 2008 appraisal has raised concerns among some community members, who have questioned whether the City is considering a sale of the property at a substantial loss. The current proposals being discussed at a series of public meetings at City Hall include an offer from the Bainbridge Island Parks department for a transfer to Parks, for no money. The other three offers range from $2.4 million to $2.6 million.

According to the Sun, the property was assessed by Kitsap County in 2014, at $492,490.

Read the article here.


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