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Posts Tagged ‘Bainbridge City Council’

RentalIt’s been six months since the Bainbridge City Council voted to develop the Suzuki property with an emphasis on affordable housing, and picked Olympic Property Group as the developer. With the housing crisis raging on throughout the Puget Sound region (see, e.g., here, here, and here, and the island’s Housing Needs Assessment, here), Bainbridge Island has made little progress toward easing its affordability problems.  And that lack of progress comes after more than a decade of inattention, as I wrote in March, when I noted that since 2003, the island has increased its income-qualified affordable housing stock by only 66 units.

But maybe there’s some good news after all. While progress on the Suzuki property has been bogged down in the particulars of an ecological study, the drafters of the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update have done some promising work of their own.

The drafting committee has come up with concrete programs with a track record for helping to alleviate the housing cost burdens embedded in a community where the median single-family home price exceeds $750,000 and rental vacancies are near zero.

Among the ideas: amend the City’s development rules to encourage innovation such as tiny houses, micro units and cottage housing; expand opportunities for infill in Winslow and the Neighborhood Centers; and allow the creation of small lots and smaller footprint homes.

One idea in the draft Comp Plan has been especially popular in other communities: the Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Established by state statute, this program allows local governments to exempt multi-family housing developments from property tax for 12 years if at least 20% of the units are rent-restricted for income-qualifying tenants. This program has been adopted by cities across Washington, both large—Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue—and small—Bellingham, Moses Lake, Yakima, Shoreline, Bremerton. (more…)

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This was posted on Facebook today, and was posted last week on the Parfitt Way Blog, the blog of Parfitt Way Management Corp., owner of the Harbour Public House, Pegasus Coffee House and Harbor Marina. The entire blog post is here.  Parfitt Way Management is owned by long-time islanders and business people, Jeff and Jocelyn Waite.

As I listen to the competing arguments for the preferred use of the Suzuki property, I am disappointed by the discussions.

In many respects, this is a bizarre story of a geographically exclusive city that prides itself on being environmentally conscious, whose city council can approve the construction of yet another 10,000-square-foot vacation home with a heated outdoor swimming pool, and simultaneously decry as an eyesore the “ugly” multifamily developments where working class people live. In other respects, this is a familiar story of America’s continuing clash between people of differing economic classes, who rely on each other, and yet cannot figure out how to live with each other.

Bainbridge Island’s service sector is teetering on the edge of unsustainability for one reason and one reason alone – lack of available workers. Historically, to maintain our two restaurants’ doors open we have required some 60 – 70 persons in our work force per year. That nets out to about 35 full time equivalents (FTE). We are just one employer on an island that continues to demand a vibrant and healthy downtown. Each year we watch as our available labor pool shrinks and the number of staff miles driven to get to work increases. In my many years on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, I have heard a common refrain from the island’s employers. How is that good for the island and our island environment?

For those who are taking issue with the Housing Resource Board’s (HRB) proposal based on environmental concerns, please take pause. If Bainbridge Island is a defining place that embodies the best of environmentalism, then much of that movement becomes wed to the condition of the privileged. Privileged environmentalism is not progressive politics but a politics of the rich and comfortable that only claims progressive ideals. That brand of environmentalism becomes entirely consistent with – and is a close cousin of – class exclusionary politics. (more…)

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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 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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Last night the four proposals for the Suzuki property debuted before the Council and a good sized crowd at City Hall. The written proposals have been available on the City’s website for weeks, but this was the first of the scheduled three public meetings to review the proposals. Each applicant had a half-hour for an oral presentation, followed by questions from Council members. At times the presentations sounded like oral term papers, where presenters made sure to highlight all the required elements of the assignment: Mixed housing, green construction, affordability, open space, community gardens, buffers, connectivity, safe routes to school, compatibility with neighborhood character, experienced development team. Check, check and check.

Oh yes, and a decent offering price. Presenters did not talk much about their offers for the land, other than to note that the price might have to be adjusted if significant traffic mitigation or other plan modification was required by the City. Offers ranged from zero to $2.6 million.

First up was the Bainbridge Parks Department. Board president Tom Swolgaard devoted less than ten minutes to the very simple proposal: if the City gives the land to the Parks Department, the use of the land will be determined by a community planning process, similar to that being used for the recently acquired Sakai property. Swolgaard said Parks’ interest in the property arose because the department had been asked by various members of the community to submit a proposal. But, he said, they are “not proposing any specific use at this time.”

The Parks Department is offering only a transfer of the property, with no payment, on the theory that the same taxpayers fund both the City and the Parks Department.

The Parks proposal is here.

Next was a presentation by Blue Architecture. Theirs was the only proposal that provided for permanent affordability for all housing on the property. The Blue plan calls for clustered housing, surrounding a grassy courtyard, on the flatter portion of the property, on the north-eastern side. The presenter, architect Bob Guyt, said Blue’s proposal had the smallest footprint of any of the housing proposals. Much of the property would be left in its natural state, perhaps with a system of trails running through it, which could be deeded back to the City or the school district. Only a third of the site would be developed, and 75% of the land would be open space. The pond would be undisturbed, as would the old growth trees on site. (more…)

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Mayor Anne Blair is recovering from heart surgery today in a Spokane hospital after falling ill while on vacation. We are sending our prayers and thoughts for a complete and quick recovery to Anne and family. Here is the press release sent out by her family. 

On July 15, 2015, Anne Blair had heart bypass surgery at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Washington. Anne was vacationing in the Spokane region with family when she experienced chest tightness and shortness of breath. While Anne did not have a heart attack, doctors determined that she needed bypass surgery to eliminate some blockages in her heart and help prevent future problems.

“By all reports, the surgery went very well. The surgeon said she looks like she’s 10 years younger than she is,” said daughter Jessica. “We hope for and expect a speedy and full recovery.”

As expected after open heart surgery, Anne remains in critical condition and in intensive care. She will convalesce at Sacred Heart Hospital over the next several days before returning to Bainbridge Island early next week. From there, doctors anticipate that she will need a full month of recovery before returning to work. “Mom’s always been committed to her work. Letting that go for a few weeks may be as hard on her as the surgery,” joked Jessica.

“To say that all of us were all surprised by this would be an understatement,” said husband Wayne. “She’s been a fairly healthy eater, walks regularly and hasn’t had any health issues. It is a good lesson for others to take symptoms of potential heart problems seriously.”

During Anne’s absence from the City Council, please direct any pressing business to City Manager, Doug Schulze, Deputy Mayor Mike Scott, or Councilmember Val Tollefson.

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