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Bainbridge stops new building projects for six months

The building moratorium was issued amidst growing environmental concerns.
File photo of a home under construction on Bainbridge Island. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – City Council approved an “emergency” six-month halt on new building projects throughout the island Tuesday, citing “significant concerns” about growth and development in the city under its existing codes.

First among the council's concerns: "Threatened harm to Bainbridge Island's fresh water aquifers due to continued clearing of native forests and vegetation," according to the moratorium ordinance, which council approved 6-0.

The moratorium applies to new building permits and land use applications unless they fall under a list of approved exclusions. It doesn't apply to previously submitted applications; actions taken by City Council; permits and applications for non-subdivision single-family residences; remodels, demolition, affordable housing projects and other exclusions.

The city is encouraging those with questions about how the moratorium would affect their development project to stop by the permit counter at City Hall or to email pcd@bainbridgewa.gov. The city's Department of Planning and Community Development can be reached at 206-780-3750.

The item did not appear on the City Council’s agenda before Tuesday’s meeting, but was added on a motion by Councilman Ron Peltier after council members said they discussed the idea in a closed executive session.

Peltier noted that the approval method is an accepted way of handling such moratoriums, which avoids creating a panic and a rush of building permits ahead of an announced deadline. The idea, he said, is to implement a few code changes during the moratorium period.

The main change, he said, is a group of updates to the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance, which regulates sensitive environmental areas. The city has been working through updates to those codes over the last few months and will continue to discuss them in the next few weeks. Other changes he’d like to see lie in the city’s design guidelines and additional tree protection regulations, he said.

“It gives you a timeout so you’re not losing the opportunity of more land being developed in ways that aren’t consistent with the community’s vision,” Peltier said, adding that the moratorium could free up city staff to work to fixing problems in the current code.

“Far from being punitive,” Councilman Matthew Tirman wrote in an email to the Kitsap Sun, “this measure addresses a very real concern among islanders that development and clear cutting of land is out of control and needs to be reined in.”

The move isn’t without critics in the housing community. Peter Brachvogel, an architect with the Bainbridge firm BC&J Architecture, was among those who asked the City Council to reconsider Tuesday night, saying that the move would put a chokehold on the island’s construction market.

In a later interview, Brachvogel estimated that the moratorium would affect projects his office is working on for 10 families and said it will force BC&J to shift its focus to off-island work over the next few months.

“Right now I’ve got clients, families that are trying to get into houses that are simply going to be hammered by this,” he said Tuesday. “We’re nowhere ready to come in for building permits just yet. We’re in the process of designing. By the time this goes into play, we’re going to be hamstrung."

The city will hold a public hearing on the moratorium at 7 p.m. on Feb. 13.

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