Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Suzuki property’

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…)

Read Full Post »

At tonight’s City Council study session, the four members who are taking the lead on the question of what to do with the Suzuki property–Mike Scott, Val Tollefson, Wayne Roth and Roger Townsend–gave strong guidance on the Council’s next steps in the process to choose a developer for the property and finalize plans for the site. By the end of the session, the remaining three members–Sarah Blossom, Kol Medina and Ron Peltier—appeared to concede to the near-inevitability of development of the property, and began to express their ideas and preferences for development.

The Council decided to come back to its next meeting with suggestions for the parameters of an ecological study to determine where the significant trees are located, what must be done or avoided in order to maintain their health, and what kind of buffer is needed around the pond. A hydrology study will also be done. Council members will bring to the next meeting suggestions for a firm that could do the studies.

They spent great deal of time debating whether to decide on a proposer/developer before completing the study. Ultimately, they decided to choose the developer and then work to revise the plans as a partner with the developer, retaining Council control and opportunity for community input at each stage of the process. Peltier and Medina argued that they should delay choosing a developer until the study was complete. Peltier further suggested that all of the developers should submit revised proposals once the study was complete, based on its findings. That idea was rejected by those in the majority, who preferred to proceed on “parallel tracks”–continuing to work on choosing a developer while the study was being done. They were not in favor of throwing out the work that has been done so far, and did not want to have new proposals submitted.

The Council talked about what kind of affordable housing would be included in the development. Medina suggested that they can’t pick a developer until they have identified specifically what kind of affordable housing the island needs.

To that, Tollefson replied, “We need it all,” adding that this development will not be able to fill to all the needs. The final plan could be all rental, all owned with affordability deed restrictions, or market rate units that are so small they are affordable. He believed that as serious discussion proceeds with the chosen developer, those decisions will come naturally.

One of the biggest surprises of the night came when Tollefson said he had already begun to form an opinion on which developer he might choose. He said he didn’t think the Blue team had the financial capability to do the project and as a result, wasn’t in favor of that proposal.

Tollefson also asked his colleagues for an indication of whether they are interested in the possibility of a Boys and Girls Club on the site, as envisioned under the proposal known as the Farm. Medina said that although he is against developing the site, if it is developed, he would be in favor of the club, or some kind of community center. Peltier wondered why the Boys and Girls Club can’t remain at its current location at Coppertop Business Park. The others did not express an opinion. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

It was after 11 last night when the City Council concluded its discussion about the next steps in the process to decide what to do about the Suzuki property. The Council agenda called only for “discussion” on next steps and not for a vote. But when each council member had given lengthy statements about his or her views on Suzuki, a visibly tired mayor Val Tollefson said he’d “counted noses” and believed a majority of four council members were in favor of developing the property for affordable housing. The four members supporting development are Roger Townsend, Wayne Roth, Mike Scott, and Val Tollefson.

They also supported doing the ecological study of the property urged by Council members Ron Peltier, Kol Medina and Sarah Blossom. Tollefson noted that much of the work for such a study has already been done and that the first task would be to work with City staff to learn what has been done, and to “fill the gaps” with a paid consultant. The four in the majority rejected the idea, floated by Peltier, that the City should use citizen volunteers for the study. (more…)

Read Full Post »

I received this letter yesterday, in response to my post “Fair housing or fair weather ideals?” The writer teaches English, film studies and composition at Bainbridge High School.

Hi Althea,

I just read your article on affordable housing and the Suzuki property and wanted to thank you for raising such an important issue

If you are interested, there is another side / consequence to the lack of affordable housing on Bainbridge–a significantly diminished ability to attract and retain teachers and administrators for Bainbridge schools.

The school board recently repealed the requirement that administrators have to live on the island. While that’s both a compromise and a recognition of our housing problem, it’s certainly not a solution.

Other organizations such as the Housing Resources Board and the Marguerite Foundation make laudable efforts to address this issue. Unfortunately their income and experience rules often wind up excluding more experienced teachers.

This is an issue that’s both immediate and near and dear to my heart. Last year, my wife and I divorced. I was lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment I could afford on Bainbridge so that I could stay near my three children. When my kids come over, they sleep on air mattresses in the crowded living room. It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work for the past year. However, a couple of months ago, I found out that my landlord intends to sell the apartment at the end of my lease. As you are probably aware, while the housing market is tight on the island, the rental market is even tighter. After going through the loss of my rental myself and seeing it happen to two close friends, I decided it was time to stop renting and start shopping for a house.

Despite having lived and taught in this community for 11 years, despite being at the top of my pay scale with zero debt and a credit score in the 800s, I, as a single teacher, literally cannot afford to buy a house in the community I call home. I’ve done everything I can short of working a second job–and there are many teachers who do just that in order to make ends meet. I’ve pursued and received my National Boards endorsement, I advise an after school club. For years, I served as department head. Despite these pursuits, I simply don’t make enough to afford even a modest house on the island. Consequently I am moving to Poulsbo in two weeks. (more…)

Read Full Post »

home1We’ve heard a lot about the environmental value of the Suzuki property, and the potential ecological impact from development. In comparison, we’ve heard almost nothing about housing access, lack of diversity and other consequences of Bainbridge Island’s affordable housing problems. I don’t want to further polarize people, but I do think a balancing of the factors in the City’s decision would be helpful.

Fair housing is an ideal that emerged from our nation’s civil rights movement. In the 1960’s, a national advisory commission found that both open and covert racial discrimination prevented black families from obtaining better housing and moving to integrated communities. To overcome the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, and lack of access to opportunity in housing, Congress adopted the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The FHA outlaws obvious discriminatory practices like exclusionary zoning, discriminatory lending practices and racially restrictive covenants. Over the years, it has been expanded to cover several protected classes, prohibiting housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or the presence of children. Like many states, Washington has its own fair housing laws, and specifies additional protected classes, such as age, sexual orientation, political ideology and source of income.

But discrimination is not always obvious, and last spring, in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that housing policies resulting in “disparate impact”—a disproportionately adverse effect on protected classesviolate the law even if there is no intent to discriminate. The Court cited zoning laws and other housing restrictions as examples of actions that may not arise from intentional discrimination, but may nevertheless violate the law because they have a disparate impact on protected classes.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finalized a new rule that gives sharper teeth to the Fair Housing Act, impacting all communities, including our own. This rule requires all agencies receiving HUD money to provide regular reports on actions they have taken to “affirmatively further fair housing.” These reports must be be submitted to HUD for review. This is a more robust standard than the previous requirement to do an “analysis of impediments” to fair housing, which fell short of the goal of increasing housing fairness.

How do these developments affect us locally?

Bainbridge Island receives HUD money through Kitsap County, according to HUD Public Affairs officer Leland Jones. For example, Housing Kitsap–our county’s public housing agency—provides HUD money to islanders who have Section 8 vouchers. Additionally, federal money provided some of the financing for Ferncliff Village, an affordable housing development of our housing nonprofit, Housing Resources Bainbridge (HRB). Thus, the island’s efforts to affirmatively further fair housing must be documented and submitted to HUD under the new rule.

Even before the new rule, there was plenty of publicly available information about regional housing efforts.  For example, a 2014 report by the Puget Sound Regional Council said that although most forms of overt housing discrimination are in decline in the Puget Sound region, the impacts of historical unfairness are still evident. The report further noted, “Structural causes of segregation continue to have a pervasive effect across communities, whether or not self-segregation or discrimination are also at play. People are residentially sorted by economic status. High-priced neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods with limited rental housing fail to provide feasible housing choices for low- and-moderate income households.”

Bainbridge Island is deeply afflicted with these structural causes of segregation, and is one of the most racially segregated communities in the entire region. According to our latest Housing Needs Assessment, the population of Bainbridge Island in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) was 91% white. Since 1980, minorities have consistently made up less than 10% of the island’s population. Compare this to other Puget Sound suburbs: Shoreline: 69% white; Bellevue: 60% white. Even our Eastside doppelganger, Mercer Island, is substantially more diverse than Bainbridge at 78% white. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »