By Jana Mackin
“All politics is local.”
— Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the House of Representatives
As a newcomer to this fair city, I was recently drawn to a large banner hanging out front of Whiskey Gulch CoffeePub on Bay Street, which read, “#SaveAnnapolis.”
Curious about the meaning of this laconic message, I ventured into the establishment where a document at the corner of the bar caught my eye. “My Gawd,” I gasped. Here was a document heir apparent to the Bill of Rights and as rare as Annapolis parking: a petition for a popular vote: “Stop Bay Street Eminent Domain.”
Thus began my journey into the heart of the $8 million Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway, a 14-foot-wide, mile-long paved pedestrian-bike pathway that, when completed, is to run from Port Orchard to the Annapolis ferry dock as part of the larger “Mosquito Fleet Trail.”
The pathway segment downtown has been completed, but the construction of the Westbay Center to Annapolis segment, where the path design runs it in front of some Bay Street residences and businesses, remains.
Foul, cry some area citizens, outraged their designed section of the pathway is nothing more than a “series of red dashes on a map.” They are worried the path’s current design will impugn their livelihoods, properties, parking and quality of life. When such issues as “city right of way” and the specter of “eminent domain” are raised, Annapolis taxpayers worry whose ox is being gored.
The multi-million-dollar question is whether this path realizes a comprehensive Beaux-Arts vision of form, function and beauty for the city or if it is merely an ill-designed route to a paved-over land grab.
Hence, the petition.
“It’s the people’s voice,” said Rob McGee, Whiskey Gulch’s co-owner. The path’s current design would impact parking, accessibility and livelihood for the owners, families and more than 30 employees, he said, and Bay Street traffic safety issues have also been raised because of the path’s design.
“Right now, the people’s voice is stifled,” he said. “When elected officials won’t listen, our only option is a petition.”
However, Mayor Rob Putaansuu, said, “The city has never taken a vote on eminent domain.” He did not address any possible future actions.
In October 2014, the Port Orchard City Council voted to build a non-deviated pathway by acquiring impacted homeowners’ properties from those who wished to sell, and those not wishing to sell pursue a deviated pathway, which includes five overwater structures, Putaansuu said.
The city has completed four out of 11 pathway segments, from Port of Bremerton’s Marina Park in downtown Port Orchard to Westbay Center, including the Marlee Apartments, Blackjack Creek and Rockwell Park additions earlier this year. Pathway segment plans also call for a new downtown boardwalk.
On Sept. 17, the Port Orchard City Council held a work-study session that included a presentation about the path and its history up to this point. For those wanting to learn more about the project, the presentation and information about the pathway is available on the city’s web site at cityofportorchard.us/bay-street- pedestrian-pathway/.
“There are a lot of moving pieces in play and they’re a lot of inaccuracies and misinformation out there,” Putaansuu he said. “You can’t believe everything we’re accused of on social media.”
“My job as mayor is to carry out the decisions of the City Council. We have to make decisions that best serve the city as a whole,” Putaansuu said. “Sometimes that may impact individual businesses, but they will be fairly compensated.”
However, it is the people’s job to voice their questions and concerns, and, when necessary as in the case of this petition, put them before a vote that supporters hope will be a preemptive action against any future council actions of enforced eminent domain.
Hopefully, city government and citizens can work together to unravel the pathway’s Gordian knot of issues and resolve differences to find a workable, agreeable and aesthetically beautiful solution.
“We want to work with our City Council,” McGee said. “We have a couple of ideas. Let’s sit and work together on the design. Nothing gets accomplished if you don’t come to the table.”
Jana Mackin is a newcomer to South Kitsap and will be sharing her observations and musing about our community in future Independent columns. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.