BI inn moratorium ends, lobbyist hired

The Bainbridge Island City Council voted to likely end its moratorium on inns at a meeting Nov. 14, but at the same time questioned why it hasn’t addressed the issue of hotels on Winslow for a number of years.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said the council was not happy with the Winslow Hotel proposal years ago, so wanted to put a temporary hold on hotels. “It was a good-faith ask,” she said, “not to thwart the use of hotels in Winslow.”

She wondered aloud why city staff has not brought the issue back to council. I guess we have to “forcibly ask for this to be on a near-term agenda.”

Hytopoulos said it doesn’t seem right to limit inns in Neighborhood Centers without being willing to address “why we are not permitting hotels in Winslow.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider agreed. “We are sending guests off-island to get lodging. That’s not right.” She said during busy times of the year people can’t be housed on BI when celebrations take place. So much travel is not good for the environment and adds to traffic woes.

She said such facilities should be centralized, and we have to be “smart about it. It’s good we are ending the moratorium, but were not sending the right message” if we don’t look at other options like hotels.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said the Comprehensive Plan is inadequate when it comes to economic planning for BI. He said hotels need to be addressed in the Comp Plan update being worked on now. “Hotels certainly belong” in that discussion, he said.

As for ending the inn moratorium, BI planning director Patty Charnas said the Planning Commission made sensible changes responding to public input.

Inns with 15 guest rooms will be limited to three at Lynwood Center and one each at Rolling Bay and Island Center, down from two proposed by city staff. Inns cannot be on adjacent properties, and they have to be separately owned and operated.

She added there was no discussion about inns along High School Road or in Winslow because the focus was Neighborhood Centers.

1st lobbyist

Meanwhile, Briahna Murray was introduced as Bainbridge Island’s first lobbyist to the state legislature. She said she has been representing cities for 15 years.

She said cities can work with lawmakers directly, but hiring a lobbyist “increases your odds of success.” Because of her direct involvement she understands details of bills and can get into a “lot of negotiating rooms.”

Because it’s an election year and a 60-day session, rather than 105, Murray said, “It will be limited in activity.” Half the Senate and all the House is up for election, so she doesn’t expect much controversy. Because revenue forecasts are positive, she said it’s “not going to be a tough budget.” She expends spending or money to be put into reserves.

She added that if there was a bill the city didn’t like last year, “The game is not over yet,” as those that didn’t pass carry over to this year. “You have to stay engaged.”

The headline news this year will be behavior health as the state has been fined $100 million due to a federal order for not addressing that issue well enough.

Of likely interest to BI, Murray said, is an attempt to raise the 1% cap on property tax levy growth without a vote. Also, an excise tax for public safety. Land use and affordable housing also are of interest to BI, she said.

Murray said she knows BI has a laundry list of wants, but leaders need to “right-size your vision for the length of the session and task before them” (legislators). She said she knows the city wants some return on its investment.

“Olympia hands out money. It would be irresponsible of me not to recommend you have your hand out,” she said, adding she hopes the city can prioritize three to five items by November.

As for how long it can take to pass a bill, Murray said that’s “hard to predict. You tell me what bill you want passed, and I’ll tell you how long it will take.”

For example, if BI wants to go its own way on affordable housing it would take more time than if it is willing to join in with other cities that already have been working on it.