BI wants affordable housing on police station site

The city of Bainbridge Island wants to encourage affordable housing and also make the gateway to the island more attractive.

City manager Blair King thinks BI can do both by working with private developers at the site of what will be the old police station. King presented some ideas at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting.

King said the building will become vacant in the third quarter of 2023 as police move to their new facility at the former Harrison Medical Center. He said the worst-case scenario would be for the building to remain vacant and become a “blight” on the community.

Instead, he laid out some options for the .89 acres just up the hill from the ferry dock. He recommended the city continue to own the property, but develop it through a long-term lease agreement. It could be three stories high over a parking garage with current zoning standards, but up to five stories if the standards were “relaxed.” A federal tax credit could be available for the studio to two-bedroom units.

King said options include making a development 100% affordable or a mix of affordable and market rate units. It could also be senior housing or sold to a developer for an affordable housing project. The city could insist on a high design standard. “It does not have to look like an affordable housing project,” he said, adding it can be “difficult to tell if done correctly.”

With 100% affordable housing, there could be 66 units with existing zoning, costing $355,297 each. If zoning is “relaxed,” there could be 200 at $344,062 each. If the “notch” is purchased, there would be 74 at $367,430 each with current zoning. With the notch, there would be 226 at $345,545 each.

Councilmembers seemed to agree to retain ownership of the land, make the development 100% affordable, and to purchase a “notch” in the property to make the site more conforming.

“It’s a marquee project. The view from there is quite good,” Councilmember Michael Pollock said, adding that people with low incomes are still entitled to the quality of life others enjoy. He said that the city should put as many units there as possible. He said “micro housing” has been very popular across the water in Seattle. People “do quite well with minimal space.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said she loves the idea of innovation. “Not everybody wants their own kitchen,” she said. However, she said this project should jumpstart plans to look at “a big vision for that area.”

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos agreed. “We need to start a plan for the remainder of the ferry gateway. We can’t to everything here,” she said, adding she can’t imagine 200 units on just that site. “We need to balance as many as we can with what makes sense.” She said the area should provide services for local people, rather than things that bring people here. “It is so important we do this. It is our gateway.”

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson likes that a development would offer popular water views. “People are people. They want to see the same thing that we see,” she said. She also said that if they receive consistent push back from the community on this that a more-acceptable route might be to make it affordable housing for seniors.

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said he would like to see relaxed zoning to create more opportunities. That’s important because we’re “ten years out of date” in providing affordable housing on BI.

Deputy mayor Clarence Moriwaki said the Northwest corner of the property needs to be public space that invites people to go both directions on Winslow Way. “It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t make that place look really great,” he said.

Since the property slopes downward, he said it would make sense for a development to be three-stories high at the top and five stories at the bottom so in its entirety it would be a similar height. “Then it won’t have the visual impact people would oppose.”

Moriwaki likes the idea of shared kitchens, but he really likes that instead of hiding people with lower incomes this development would put them in a prominent location. “If we do this right if sets a different tone.”

Finally, he said the “design really matters. It doesn’t have to look like it came from the Soviet Union.”