Conservation and the Economic Landscapes of Bainbridge Island

Jon Quitslund

I began this post months ago and left it half finished.  I’ve come back to it now with new enthusiasm; what I’m writing about pertains directly to work on the Housing element of the Comprehensive Plan (on the Planning Commission agendas for April 28 and May 12).  In that connection, I’ve been provided with ideas that may solve some of the problems I was unable to deal with two months ago.

If there were some way to protect Bainbridge Island from ups and downs in the regional and national economy, you’d think it would have been discovered by now.  We all indulge in wishful thinking:  Can’t we prevent off-Island developers from snapping up properties, taking their profits and running?  Can’t we protect the precious parts of this place that haven’t been spoiled by development?

Is there, after all is said and done, a vital local economy that will add to what’s most treasured in our natural and cultural resources, rather than exploiting opportunities for short-term profits and depleting those resources?

* * *

At the end of October I published some ruminations arising from work on the Economic element.  (Scroll back to Oct. 31, 2015 in the archive if you’re interested: what’s said there about the building, construction, and real estate sector of our local economy is pertinent here.)

For help articulating what our local economy needs if it is to maintain integrity and vitality within the regional economy of Seattle and the West Sound, I appealed to ideas developed by Wendell Berry, and in this post I’m turning to Mr. Berry once again.

For many years, in his fiction and in essays, Wendell Berry has been celebrating the virtues of rural and small town life, and examining the broad historical trends and specific policies that, in many parts of the United States, have pushed small towns into decline and caused losses of the sense of place that had held them together.

We have moved on from the Economic element to other parts of the update, but I have continued to think about our local economy, not in itself but in relation to other elements – Land Use, Environment, and Housing in particular.

The essays in Wendell Berry’s recent book, Our Only World (Counterpoint: Berkeley, 2015) have again stimulated my thinking.  In his title and throughout the book, Berry calls attention to the vulnerability of the world we inhabit and the need for careful stewardship of limited resources.

Berry puts environmental issues in an economic context, and he also relates them to social values and relationships, between people and with the land they occupy.  He is somewhat critical of environmentalists and organizations dedicated to the protection of wilderness and undeveloped land.  Here’s an example.

“The issue of land use is not on the agenda of most conservation organizations, which have been primarily concerned throughout their history with the preservation of wilderness and wildlife habitat, even though most land is being used, and used badly, and though no wilderness or wildlife can survive the prolonged abuse of the economic landscapes.”

This passage, from an essay titled “A Forest Conversation,” led me to think about the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and that organization’s efforts, with the support of generous donors and hard-working stewards of privately owned land that will remain undeveloped, subject to conservancy agreements.

The Land Trust’s big conservation successes, such as the Grand Forest and Hilltop, are well known and properly celebrated.  You may be less aware of the Land Trust’s interest in smaller-scale easements and conservancy agreements that protect forested areas, wildlife habitat, streams and wetlands, on property that is already developed for residential use, or is slated for subdivision and development.

Residential development and environmental conservation don’t have be either/or propositions; actually, I believe we no longer have the luxury of seeing either choice in isolation from the other.  How can the two be reconciled?

In the years ahead, as we implement the policies now being laid down in the updated Comprehensive Plan, I will look to the Land Trust, along with forward-thinking property owners, developers and architects, to collaborate with the City in that work of reconciliation.

The Comp Plan’s Land Use element, now in draft form, requires that we develop an Island-wide conservation plan.  This plan, as I imagine it, won’t prevent development or render it more difficult, but it will manage the pattern and process with reference to long-range goals and the future of our community.  Very likely, the kinds and sizes of houses that are built will be different.

The Planning Commission’s discussion of the Housing element will begin in earnest on April 28th and continue on May 12th.  A thorough revision of that crucial piece of the Comp Plan has already been drafted by staff, and Joe Tovar has also prepared a ‘tool kit’ of materials that will help all who are interested to reach well beyond the regulations and attitudes that are now in place.

* * *

Here’s another quotation from Wendell Berry, from an essay titled “Local Economies to Save the Land and the People”: “All of us who are living owe our lives directly to our connection to the land. I am not talking about the connection that is implied by such a term as ‘environmentalism.’ I am talking about the connection that we make economically, by work, by living, by making a living. This connection, as we see every day, is going to be either familiar, affectionate, and saving, or distant, uncaring, and destructive.”

This is either/or thinking that I can embrace.  Never mind the passing reference to ‘environmentalism’: like other abstractions, the term is a necessary evil.  What matters to Mr. Berry, and to me, is environmental stewardship, not in wilderness areas and legislative agendas, but close to home, in our own neighborhoods and daily lives.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the building, construction, and real estate sector of our local economy.  I believe that, generally speaking, the people in those businesses are no less committed to environmental stewardship than the rest of us.  Still, there are too many instances of reckless, destructive development, indifferent to the lay of the land and the possibility of enduring connection to what are called, in the Municipal Code, “valued open space features.”

Gaps and flaws in our land use regulations can be blamed for some of the stuff that happens.  We can blame developers and others when they don’t do what’s required of them, but someone else is responsible when what’s expected is never made clear.

I have looked closely at several chapters of the Municipal Code that regulate land clearing and development, and it’s no wonder we have problems.  For instance, in BIMC 17.12, Subdivision Design Standards, I find “conservation and enhancement of natural or scenic resources” mentioned in one place as a worthy objective, but elsewhere the regulations don’t ensure that such conservation will be accomplished.

I’m happy to report that the subdivision design standards are being studied and will be revised.  And this will happen in tandem with the implementation, in response to a state-level mandate, of Low Impact Design standards.  (LID standards will govern how stormwater is handled, in a way that minimizes runoff; this is being described as “a paradigm shift” in planning for development, and it’s going to make the preservation of open space and forested areas a priority.)

I find other reasons to believe that we can, in the Comp Plan update and its implementation, find ways to combine residential development with conservation.  The materials provided to the Planning Commission in connection with the Housing element included a brochure titled Growing Greener; Putting Conservation into Local Codes.  It was written by Randall G. Arendt for the Natural Lands Trust in Pennsylvania.

Growing Greener was first published in 1997, and “conservation subdivisions” have become, I gather, common practice in several parts of the country.  Another iteration of Arendt’s ideas, from 2009, is more fleshed-out and illustrated: look online for Growing Greener; Conservation by Design.  We could have used these ideas some years ago when the subdivision regulations were revised!

I should say that here on Bainbridge some adjustments will have to be made as we apply the conservation design concept.  Bainbridge doesn’t have much room left for long plat subdivisions (5 lots or more), and the examples in Growing Greener are all bigger developments.  But we do have acres of valuable undeveloped land, especially in the R-0.4 and R-1 zones.

How can the long-term value of that land be fully realized, for the benefit of property owners and the community?  The process of “community assessment” described in Growing Greener looks like something well worth undertaking, and it will combine well with the site assessment that LID standards will require, and the protections for aquifer recharge that are also required by state law.

Perhaps I’ll have more to say on this subject after the Planning Commission meetings on Housing.  Come to those meetings if you can.  And stay tuned!

Posted in Community, Comprehensive Plan, Economy, Environment, Housing, Island values, Long range planning, Place, Stewardship | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Conservation and the Economic Landscapes of Bainbridge Island

April on Bainbridge: Planning, Politics, and Poetry

Jon Quitslund

Forget April in Paris!  There’s lots to do close to home.  Spring in the air . . . but as Groucho Marx said to Margaret Dumont, If I sprung in the air I’d fall in the lake!

April is Earth Month, and the month in which the sun’s rising and lengthening of days seem to accelerate.  It becomes easier to pack more variety, of work and play, into the days and weeks.

My calendar is full.  Three meetings in the month has become the new normal for the Planning Commission, and of course hours of preparation precede each meeting.  But the time spent has been satisfying and productive.  While I do my best thinking alone, it’s teamwork that really accomplishes things, and COBI today is a place that rewards individuality in a cooperative spirit.

I’m starting this post late in the evening after a Planning Commission meeting, and I’ll try to finish it tomorrow.  On April 7th our agenda included work on pieces of the Shoreline Management Program and the next-to-the-last study session on the Water Resources element of the Comp Plan.

Christy Carr, the Planner now responsible for interpreting and administering the SMP, has gone through the whole monstrous maze looking for ways to clarify its language and make it more coherent, without introducing any changes in policies.  We’ll be dealing with this ‘General Limited Amendment’ piecemeal, for several months.

The next meeting  (April 14th), will include a public hearing on another piece of the SMP, dealing with commercial aquaculture, and this amendment will introduce significant and precedent-setting changes, setting aside policies that the Department of Ecology obliged the City to accept when our SMP was submitted for review.

As you may know, aquaculture is a big business in Puget Sound, both in net-pens for fish and in tideland tracts dedicated to intensive cultivation of shellfish.  The Washington legislature has declared “that aquatic farming provides a consistent source of quality food, offers opportunities of new jobs, increased farm income stability, and improves balance of trade” (RCW 15.85.010).  Accordingly, aquaculture is a “preferred water dependent use,” but (like single-family residences and boating) commercial aquaculture is subject to regulation that recognizes its environmental impacts.

An acute awareness of those environmental impacts led a group of Bainbridge citizens to bring a suit against the Department of Ecology, claiming that the regulations called for in our SMP went too far in support of industry interests.  The several parties are now involved in settlement talks before the Growth Management Hearings Board, with the City participating on the plaintiffs’ side.

Commercial aquaculture is not going to be prohibited in the waters and on the beaches of Bainbridge Island, but opportunities will be limited.  What’s at issue (in this as in other parts of the SMP) is what sorts of regulation are necessary in support of the “no net loss” standard and the general public’s interest in the integrity and beauty of our beaches and Puget Sound.

On April 14th, the Planning Commission and the public will consider a draft of the Aquaculture limited amendment that has been reviewed by the Department of Ecology and the Growth Management Hearings Board.  This will be the Commission’s second look at the text: it will then go to the Council.  This will be an occasion to recognize the principles and persistence of a local group (the Bainbridge Alliance for Puget Sound, and their lawyer David Bricklin), and the excellent work of Lisa Marshall and Christy Carr, representing the City in the settlement talks and the drafting of appropriate regulations.

There will be other items on the April 14th agenda: another piece of the General Limited Amendment, the last portion of the Water Resources element, and first steps in the updating of the Comp Plan’s Housing element.

I want to say a few things about Water Resources.  Concern about our water supply has a long history on Bainbridge.  The Island’s hydrology has changed as our population has grown, as settlement patterns have changed, and as public and private water systems have developed.

In response to those changes and a widespread concern about our future, the City has worked very hard to establish and communicate reliable information.  We have a lot of data on both quantity and quality in our groundwater, and we have models that make it possible to predict (though not without a doubt) how well our aquifer system will perform under pressure from a growing population and a changing climate.

In recent months there have been many occasions for citizens to learn about the Island’s water resources, and a wealth of new information is being worked into the Comp Plan, along with goals and policies that will support sound land use policies and good stewardship on the part of citizens.

Cami Apfelbeck, COBI’s Water Resources Specialist, deserves a great deal of credit for managing all of the monitoring and information-gathering work, and for doing the lion’s share of the work on a Water Resources element that is truly comprehensive in its goals and policies, and a deep pool of information that all concerned citizens should find useful.

After completing work on Water Resources, the Planning Commission will pivot to focus on Housing.  Some time ago (was it two months, or longer?) we had an excellent workshop session devoted to the issues and objectives that need to be addressed in the Housing element.  I gather that in the interval since the workshop, further work has been done that will contribute to our updating of goals and policies.  The Planning Commission meetings on April 28 and May 12 will be devoted, in large part, to the Housing element.

Something else is in the works that’s of great interest to me.  I’ve known about the Island Power project for some time, without knowing enough to call myself well-informed.  Thanks to a recent Saturday morning meeting, I’m better informed and cautiously optimistic about the possibility of saying NO to an electrical system that provides us with ‘dirty’ power.  In the future, electricity will only become more important in our daily lives, and it had better be less dependent on fossil fuels.

By some time in May, the Council and the public should have a report on the feasibility of negotiating with Puget Sound Energy to purchase the local electrical infrastructure, in order to assume local control and obtain our power from a relatively clean source, the Bonneville Power Administration.  I’ll have more to say about this when I know more.

There’s Poetry in the title to this post, but none so far in my prose.  Now for some word-play: earth, art; EARTH; earth, heart; eartHeart.  The Earth Art Bainbridge project, which extends through the month of April, has been very well publicized, so you must know something about it already, and perhaps you’ve already encountered some of what’s going on in several locations around the Island.

Beth Robson, the originating imagination behind this month-long festival, has done something amazing.  Not by herself, of course; she has tapped many local talents, and I trust she will also find an appreciative audience.

For more information, don’t rely on my monotonous blog, but go to the Earth Art Bainbridge website and the blog that’s part of it: you’ll find an abundance of images and information, designed to delight and also to sharpen your awareness of climate change, the life-defining of our time and our future.

The Earth Art Bainbridge website includes a calendar of activities and events spread across the month.  Two are of special interest to me.  Keenings, on April 23 (Earth Day, by the way), will be a staged reading of a suite of poems by Bobbie Morgan that arose out of an awareness of extinctions, around the globe and across the web of life.  This will be at the Dayaalu Center, between 7:30 and 9 p. m. on the 23rd.  No tickets are available in advance, and space will be limited, so arrive early.

The other event is on the last day of the month, and I expect it will provide a fitting climax to the festival.  ArtiFact Pattern will be a multi-media performance piece, being presented at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art between 7:30 and 9 p. m. on the 30th.

For this, advance tickets were available, and I believe it’s been sold out, but BrownPaperTickets.com has tickets for an “Encore performance” on June 18, at SpaceCraft, at Rolling Bay Hall.

ArtiFact Pattern will, I expect, be impossible to describe even after it’s happened, and the information I have about it raises high expectations.  The principal creator/coordinator of the “fact pattern” is Janet Norman Knox, whom many Islanders know: a poet and a scientist, a citizen activist—need I say more?

I’ll end with an excerpt from the ‘Distilled Synopsis’ provided by the Art Museum: “What if naturalist David Attenborough collaborated with artist Meredith Monk, satirist Tom Lehrer, and storyteller Spaulding Gray to describe Climate Change and the human species in it?”

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cooperation, Creativity, Cultural Change, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Housing, Individuality, Place, Shoreline Management Program, Shorelines | Comments Off on April on Bainbridge: Planning, Politics, and Poetry

A Poet & a Scholar: Interviews & Letters from a 30-Year Friendship

Jon Quitslund

Gary Snyder and Julia Martin, Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2014).

April being Poetry Month, I thought I should salute it with something that honors the profession of poet and the work that poetry does in the world.  Among living poets, Gary Snyder is the one with whom I’ve felt the longest and deepest connection.  He’s also one who has had a good deal to say about the work of poetry (and the poetry of work).

As those already familiar with him will recognize, Snyder refers often, in poems and recorded conversations, to the real work.  (That’s the title of a collection of interviews and talks from the formative phase of his career, 1964-1979.)  In an interview with Bill Moyers he explained his aim in life:

The real work is becoming native in your heart, coming to understand we really live here, that this is really the continent we’re on and that our loyalties are here, to these mountains and rivers, to these plant zones, to these creatures. The real work involves developing a loyalty that goes back before the formation of any nation state, back billions of years and thousands of years into the future.

The vision expressed there sounds grandiose, but Snyder’s loyalty to that vision is expressed, Zen-fashion, in small-scale, down to earth activities: writing that seems spontaneous and conversational although it took years to produce, building a house and caring for the land around it, taking part in a community, caring for his family, maintaining connections with a broad network of friends.

The book I’m reviewing here reveals in fine detail the integrity and authenticity of Gary Snyder’s exemplary life and work.

Nobody Home is composed of a series of interviews (pp. 13-95) and correspondence (pp. 99-267) between Julia Martin and Gary Snyder.  At the outset, in 1983, Martin was a young graduate student in Cape Town, South Africa.  Snyder, thirty years older, was settled in his hand-built house on San Juan Ridge in Nevada County, California; he was well into the long middle portion of his career, and had recently published Axe Handles, his first book since the landmark Turtle Island (1974).

Both Martin and Snyder (from here on I’ll refer to them as Julia and Gary) are engaging letter-writers, and it’s satisfying to follow the phases of their friendship.  Julia begins as a well-informed but uncertain acolyte, and Gary is a patient and generous mentor.  Over the years many things change in their personal lives, and both changes and continuities are taken in stride.

They meet several times, and Julia records three interviews.  The first, in 1988, is the longest, made during a visit to Kitkitdizze, Gary’s home.  Letters fill the gap between that and a brief interview from 2005, recorded in an Oregon motel room when they were both participating in a conference.  For the third, in 2010, they are both at Kitkitdizze, and it’s the most poignant, since (as noted in their correspondence) both of them have recently suffered the loss of loved ones.

Gary gradually reveals various aspects of his personality, his interests as a writer, his Buddhist practice, his rootedness in the place and the community where he has chosen to live out his life.  And the book’s human interest depends just as much, if not more, on the arc of Julia’s maturation in an academic career with her own credentials as a writer.

Several themes run through all the interviews and letters.  I’ll focus on one, to which others are related, and you can form your own connections to our current local concerns.

In the first interview, Julia observes that the Buddhist group in which Gary plays a leading role, the Ring of Bone Zendo, “emphasizes this place, this experience. You don’t want it to be an Asian import.”  Gary adds that in maintaining a local practice, not “establishing a center that caters to rootless and alienated people that come and go,” they are in a sense “more orthodox, more Asian,” than much of North American Buddhism.

This turn in the conversation leads to description of “a natural society.”  This means “a society in which people live in one place for a good number of years; it means that they know each other personally on a first-name basis; . . . it means that they do not expect everybody to do what they do—a community in its own nature cannot be homogeneous.”

Julia asks, “Would you call yourself a revolutionary?”  Gary’s response must have been accompanied by laughter: “I’d call myself a postrevolutionary!”  This statement, made in 1988, can be connected with “Four Changes,” the visionary manifesto he composed in the summer of 1969, widely distributed at the time and included at the end of Turtle Island (1974)—a slim volume that won the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1975.  Still in print, and more resonant today than it was back then!

We aren’t yet living in post-revolutionary times, but Gary’s insight was and remains profound.  He is skeptical about large-scale revolutionary programs: “I’m not sure that deliberately applied drastic changes will necessarily get you where you want to go.”  But envisioning a post-revolutionary culture, at the local level (as, for instance, in Burlington, Vermont, or on Bainbridge Island), is crucial to success in any form of broad revolutionary change.

It’s very refreshing, in the present moment, fraught with crisis-consciousness, to read this: “Don’t imagine that we’re doing ecological politics to save the world.  We’re doing ecological politics to save ourselves, to save our souls.  It’s a personal exercise in character . . . It’s a matter of etiquette.”

The word “etiquette” sounded surprising until I recalled that the first essay in The Practice of the Wild (1990) is “The Etiquette of Freedom.”  Modesty, tact, and humility are important traits in Gary’s character.  And his focus on a local culture includes something for us on Bainbridge to bear in mind: we aren’t so “special” as we sometimes think.  “The point is not to let yourself be the main character of what you’re thinking.  If the sense of self is too narrowly located, then people sound like they’re talking about themselves all the time.”

The third interview bears the title “Enjoy It While You Can.”  Some passages are very broad in scope: “we are capable of beginning now to think of the whole Planet Earth as our place—which nobody was quite up to before.  They didn’t have quite that much information.”  But his focus remains specific.  He reminisces about building Kitkitdizze with a group of friends, working full time through the summer of 1970, “using as much local material as possible, no power tools, doing things all in the old way.”  Many who were involved still say it was the best summer of their lives.

Julia asks him for his thoughts on old age, sickness, and death, to which he replies, “Enjoy it while you can! Because soon you won’t even have that.”  At that, they must both have laughed a lot.

Posted in Books, Buddhism, Community, Cooperation, Individuality, Place, Reviews, Stewardship | Tagged , , | Comments Off on A Poet & a Scholar: Interviews & Letters from a 30-Year Friendship

“Nature Must Not Win the Game”

Jon Quitslund

This post was composed last month, and then the holidays intervened.  As is appropriate in January, it looks both backward and forward.

Back in December, my friend Charles Schmid showed up, as he usually does, as a watchdog participant on the COBI committee charged with improving City policies related to significant trees, vegetated buffer zones, and the forested areas of Bainbridge Island.  At the end of the meeting, he passed over to me a clipping he had saved from the Kitsap Sun newspaper.

I used to write a bi-weekly column for the Bremerton paper.  That experiment started me on the path I’m still following, with no end in sight, in the writing I’m doing now under Sustainable Bainbridge auspices.

My column was originally published some time in 2005.   I find in it some uncanny resonance with our situation today, and I don’t think I’m capable of writing as well now, so I’m republishing the old column, slightly revised.

. . .

An article on an inside page of the New York Times for Dec. 27, 2004 caught my eye, and I tore the page out to save it – something I rarely have the presence of mind to do.  The reporter, Andy Newman, worked into his story some ideas that are relevant, I think, to the life of our Bainbridge Island community right now.

Mr. Newman describes his discovery of an enigmatic quotation in a subway station below 42nd Street in Manhattan: “Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose.”  This wasn’t the work of some graffiti artist; it appears in a piece of public art (“Under Bryant Park,” by Samm Kunce) that replaces the old blank wall tiles.

Curiosity prompted Mr. Newman to talk with others who had paused to think about the riddle on the wall.  A patrolman with the transit police said of our contest with nature, “It seems like we as a people in this city have to overcome everything to live.”  He added, however, that since nature is bigger than we are, all around us and within us, we’re only contending against ourselves.  “It’s like a double negative, a Catch-22. If we win, we lose.”

The words on the subway wall come from C. G. Jung, one of the fathers of psychoanalysis and of psychoanalytically oriented inquiries into the ancient and modern cultures of the world.  The sentence appears in Jung’s Alchemical Studies.  Here it is again, with some explanatory context:

Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose. And whenever the conscious mind clings to hard and fast concepts and gets caught in its own rules and regulations – as is unavoidable and of the essence of civilized consciousness – nature pops up with her inescapable demands.

Meredith Sabini, the editor of a collection of Jung’s writings on nature, explains that Jung saw in human nature an unconscious, instinctual component that contains both wisdom and wildness.  Jung thought that human nature must be disciplined by civilized consciousness.  In the modern world, however, that consciousness has developed a wildness of its own, contrary to nature.  If discipline by civilizing impulses and institutions goes too far, not nurturing but threatening what is felt to be essential to happiness, the consequence, within an individual and even in the fabric of a culture, will be an eruption of nature’s “inescapable demands.”

Why does civilization, seen in relation to nature (both the non-human environment and the biologically determined aspect of our own being), always tend to go too far?  Why do we strive to “win the game”?

These are questions I can’t answer, but I think that if we fail to ponder them, and to restrain our impulses by so doing, we are asking for even more trouble than we see around us today.

Anthropologists have studied the forces, both conscious and unconscious, at work in the creation of everything that is culture, not nature.  To illustrate the difference: Humans have a natural aptitude for language learning, but languages define our culture, not the natural order of things.  So the nature/culture dichotomy is cultural, not natural.

In nature, nothing has a name, and a cyclical flux is the way of the world.  Sometimes the flux is pleasant, sometimes it’s frightening: we don’t doubt that the sun will come up every morning, and we respond with shock and awe to such dark forces as earthquakes and tsunamis.  Nobody owns anything, and neither the sun nor the tsunami takes any notice of us.  Can we be forgiven for adopting a defensive or aggressive stance toward nature?

Without mythology and beliefs that reach beyond the physical world, we would have no understanding of death, no way of compensating for personal losses, no social fabric.

The profound otherness and indifference of nature prompt fear in many people, and the instinctive responses of ‘fight or flight.’  To an extent that seems to me tragic, modern civilization reinforces those instincts.  It’s been said that human beings are very good at two things: self-deception and exploitation.  We have our culture, not our innate characteristics, to thank for those ingrained habits.

In the pluralistic society we have been blessed with, it should be possible to come to terms with otherness – even to celebrate it.  If our survival depends on confronting both terrorists and terror with courage, it also depends on our achieving a sustainable economy within the limits set by nature.

. . .

That last sentence, in all its abruptness, is just as I wrote it in 2005.  A lot has happened since then.  Are we more ready now to confront terror and terrorism with courage, and at the same time to confront the local and global consequences of climate change, caused by our advancing (pardon my irony) civilization?

This was to be my last post in 2015, and now it’s the first for 2016.  I’ll be writing about the Comp Plan update throughout the year.  The schedule for completion of the Comp Plan was recently revised, and the Planning Commission will be occupied with that, and with related work (notably, regulations to protect and conserve groundwater, and an update of the island-wide transportation plan) through September.  Stay tuned.

 

Posted in Climate Change, Cultural Change, Nature vs. Culture | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on “Nature Must Not Win the Game”

“NO on KXL”: Does This Change Anything?

Jon Quitslund

In the days since President Obama announced that he was, at long last, nixing the KXL pipeline, stories about the decision have had prominent places in the news cycle, and my email inbox has been crowded with messages from environmental organizations and political players celebrating, saying “We did it!” – and usually asking for a “chip in” contribution, so the good fight can be carried forward.

I haven’t heard much from the other side, but I’m sure the partisans of Big Oil and business as usual are only biding their time.  And they do have other issues to deal with, other fronts on which to mount massive resistance.

One of the themes in news reporting and commentary has annoyed me.  I’ll call it the “So What?” reaction.  It’s being said that both sides in the argument over the KXL pipeline indulged in exaggerations, and the final victory (or the defeat, if you will) is “largely symbolic” – and maybe not so final anyway.

Does exaggeration on both sides of the argument mean that both sides were wrong, so now it’s time to forget about the whole thing?

Show me a victory that isn’t largely symbolic, and I’ll tell you that either it doesn’t amount to much, or that we’re likely to regret it.  When one side in a conflict is devastated (the South in the American Civil War, for instance), seeds are sown for a longer and deeper sort of war.  The fundamental differences become harder to resolve.

There’s urgency surrounding a host of tough choices and political decisions that pertain to climate change, and they have practical, not-so-symbolic implications.  I trust that the talks in Paris will lead, though maybe not soon enough, to decisions that can’t be dismissed as “largely symbolic.”  I’m also confident that, for the time being at least, the multinational energy corporations will remain powerful.

But beyond the need for decisions by world leaders, affecting the lives of millions around the globe, there’s a need for profound cultural changes, affecting the distribution of power and resources.

How do cultures change?  Well, it’s complicated, and not only on the grand scale of nations, but within communities as small as ours.  We like to think that decades are distinctive and tipping points have a forever-after significance, but most real change is gradual, an accumulation of trends and alliances.  In that gradual process, symbols are essential to the definition of goals and the organizing of consensus.

Our time is a time of flux, of competing efforts to define the direction change is going to take.  To put it crudely, things are simultaneously getting much better and much worse.  And “better” and “worse” are relative terms; what one person regards as a good outcome or a victory will seem deplorable to someone.

Does that mean we’re all locked into relativism, with no basis for actions rooted in strong convictions?  Not at all!  I’m wary of ethical and spiritual absolutes: they simplify, and they usually demonize anyone not of the same persuasion.  But everyone needs principles – a focus for loyalty, a source of meaning and value, a well-examined sense of purpose.

So for personal reasons, and for broadly defined cultural reasons, certain things are “largely symbolic,” but all the more valuable for being symbolic.  And certain events also possess great symbolic value.

We should, of course, be wary of demagoguery, whereby an event of questionable importance gets misrepresented (with crucial facts left out or added in).  We should be even more wary of mass hysteria, which is all too easy to stir up these days.

If we don’t recognize the affirmative power of symbols and act accordingly, we’re at the mercy of the same old, same old – the status quo and the daily grind.  Let’s work hard to avoid the predicament that Yeats described in “The Second Coming” (1920): “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

I started this piece a week ago and didn’t see my way through to the end.  I’m wrapping it up and publishing in the aftermath of awful terrorist attacks in Paris.  And those events are not largely symbolic; they rise to another level of significance.  How they may influence, or distract from, the U N Climate Change Conference remains to be seen.  The threats posed by terrorism and by unchecked man-made climate “forcing” are vastly different, but we can’t afford to neglect either one.

I hope to see you Wednesday evening at the Lynwood Theatre for “This Changes Everything,” and maybe also, earlier in the day at City Hall, for EcoAdapt’s workshop on Comprehensive Plan responses to the local impacts of climate change.

 

Posted in Activism, Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cooperation, Creativity, Cultural Change, Energy, Environment, Organized protest, Values | Tagged , | Comments Off on “NO on KXL”: Does This Change Anything?

The Comprehensive Plan’s Economic Element

Jon Quitslund

Thinking about what can be done to improve the Economic element in our Comprehensive Plan has been intimidating.  I’ve been up against the limits of my own understanding of the subject, and also aware that there are limits to what can be accomplished by even the best-informed and best-intentioned of plans and programs.

In recent days I spent hours, in several sittings at the computer, trying to put together a coherent essay, only to feel that most of that time was wasted.  Then I got wise to myself and took what should have been my first step, returning to a book by Wendell Berry that’s been on my shelf since 2010.

The book is What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2010).  I’ll quote here only from the first essay, “Money Versus Goods,” but the whole book is pertinent to our current circumstances and our future.

As you may know, Mr. Berry is a man with a distinct point of view, and he accepts “agrarian” as a description of his views and values.  He’s aware that the United States, and the whole ‘developed’ world, no longer runs on agrarian principles.  Likewise, I’m aware that the economy of Bainbridge Island is not agrarian (i. e., ‘living off the land’).  There is, however, a good deal of contrarian wisdom in Berry’s principles, and let’s see what can be made of them, applied to our local situation.

Berry cites the British agronomist Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947) and his ‘law of return.’  “This law requires that what is taken from nature must be given back: The fertility cycle must be maintained in continuous rotation.  The primary value in this economy would be the capacity of the natural and cultural systems to renew themselves.  An authentic economy would be based upon renewable resources: land, water, ecological health.”

After describing this authentic economy (also termed ‘a properly ordered economy’) in general terms, Berry observes, “The present and now-failing economy is just about exactly opposite to the economy I have just described.  Over a long time, and by means of a set of handy prevarications, our economy has become an anti-economy, a financial system without a sound economic basis and without economic virtues.”

Toward this essay’s end, Berry admits that he doesn’t know how to bring down to earth “our airborne economy,” adding, “I am inclined to doubt that anybody does.”  He does, however, offer an “agenda of changes,” sixteen policy prescriptions, all of which pertain to “the economy of land use.”  Most of them align well with the goals in our Comprehensive Plan.

Here’s one last quotation, which speaks directly to our circumstances on Bainbridge Island: “From now on, if we would like to continue here, our use of our land will have to be ruled by the principles of stewardship and thrift.”

* * *

Now, what about our Comprehensive Plan and its Economic element?  Principles of stewardship have been prominently featured in our Plan since its inception, and I think they have been underlined and elaborated in the current update.  Principles of “thrift”?  Not so much, and that makes me uneasy.  (What Berry means by ‘thrift’ has nothing to do with being stingy; it’s the basic civic virtue of living within limits, using resources carefully and respecting the ‘law of return.’)

The big challenge, of course, is in the implementation of policies that effectively promote stewardship and thrift.  That won’t happen quickly in response to a stiff regulatory regime, but gradually, through subtle changes in habits and community values.

All Bainbridge Island residents participate, more or less self-consciously, in the local economy of Bainbridge Island.  So do others who work here though they don’t live on the Island, commuting either from Seattle or the Kitsap peninsula.

It’s the scope, diversity, and wellbeing of the local economy (Island-based businesses of all sorts) that’s the primary focus of the Economic element, but we need to see it in context.  A large portion of the wealth and the creature comforts enjoyed in our local economy comes from off-Island sources, and we all benefit from umbilical connections to both greater Seattle and the west side of Puget Sound: we’re not so isolated as we may imagine ourselves to be.

Dependent as we are on other economies in the Puget Sound region, and subject as we are to regional economic trends and pressures, the special sense of place that even visitors and newcomers experience here still arises from our integrity as an island, and from the industry of our local population.  It’s a source of pride, and something to be nurtured.

I see our local economy as in some respects distinct from the bigger economies surrounding us; we may be more capable of innovation and reform along the lines Berry and other prophetic voices have proposed.

Are there ways for the City, in its planning and regulatory functions, to influence what takes place in our local economy in support of community values, needs, and goals?  The answer to that must be YES, or we wouldn’t be working on the Economic element, but I’d like to see the reach of policies extended further than they do at present.

In today’s environment, we who are directly involved in the Comp Plan update are conscious of risks, vulnerabilities, and possible remedies that weren’t so evident in previous iterations of the Plan.  We have many reasons to be concerned, as Wendell Berry is, with “the economy of land use.”

Here’s an important paragraph from the Memorandum that Planning Commissioners received with the agenda for our meeting on October 22, conveying advisory comments from City Manager Doug Schulze and Finance Director Ellen Schroer:

“The current Element is divided into sections that address home-based businesses, small businesses, retail, tourism, agriculture and business/ industrial development, but it’s silent on building/construction, which is one of the biggest drivers we have in good economic times.  When building/ construction is down, our economy suffers.  The Commission should consider adding a Building and Construction section to the Element.”

I consider this good advice.  I hope we can rise to the challenge and develop goals and policies that will not only benefit an important sector of our economy,**(note below) but will provide short-term and long range benefits to our community.

A cynical and alarmist response to the paragraph I’ve quoted would see in it evidence that COBI is biased in favor of Development, in whatever form and at whatever pace the marketplace, especially in good economic times, delivers its benefits.  If so, should the Economic element say nothing about building and construction as factors in our local economy?

I don’t read the advice that way, and I would argue with anyone who does that it is up to us citizens, working together as best we can, to respond proactively to the unwelcome pressures and ‘opportunities’ that market forces bring to our shores – and to our well-established and close-knit neighborhoods, our forested acreage, and parts of the Island that are impacted by critical areas or are served by water systems close to capacity.

I believe that market forces ought to be both respected and resisted.  Respected, because they arise from fundamental economic rights.  Resisted, because the so-called ‘free market’ is not free for all, and can’t be relied upon to provide for the common good.  Profit-seeking, while it’s a fundamental driver of economic activity, needs to be tempered; it’s not the same thing as the pursuit of happiness, which is a more basic and civilized exercise of freedom.

Goal and policy statements for the Economic element will be discussed in the Planning Commission meeting on November 12, and we will begin to talk about the Transportation element.  Stay tuned.

 

Note:

** Think about it: that sector includes architects, surveyors, heavy equipment operators, arborists, builders, craftsmen of all sorts, suppliers of appliances and home furnishings, landscape designers and their suppliers and workmen, and a host of real estate brokers and salespeople – not to mention lawyers, bankers, investors and insurers.

Posted in Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cultural Change, Economy, Environment, Farms, Finite Natural Resources, Island values, Long range planning, Place, Stewardship, Values | Tagged | Comments Off on The Comprehensive Plan’s Economic Element

Comp Plan Update: Working on the Environmental Element

Jon Quitslund

In recent weeks, Joni Mitchell’s catchy lyrics have been running in a loop at the back of my mind: “how it always seems to go / you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”  Doesn’t that just get you where you live?  Nevertheless, we ought to plan for a future brighter than today – earnest effort tinged with irony.

On Thursday, September 24th, the Planning Commission will continue work on the Environmental element, responding to changes proposed by the drafting committee and discussing a few topics on which the committee hasn’t yet proposed language for the Plan.

There’s other important business on the agenda; the Update work is scheduled between 7:40 and 8:40.  Public comment on the Update will be heard before and after those times.

I’m writing now about our work in progress because I’ll be traveling for a couple of weeks from the end of the month until mid-October, and there’s a lot to do before we hit the road – destination, the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks, with sightseeing along the way there and back.

As a separate entity, the Environmental element was new in the 2004 revision of the Comp Plan; parts of it originated in the Land Use element of the 1994 Plan.  Structurally, it’s a solid foundation, and we’ve changed only a few Goal statements, while adding specifics to the Policies.

I think the citizens of Bainbridge Island are generally, and sometimes acutely, aware of new stresses upon and within our natural environment.  The recommendations for new language respond to those circumstances.  The page-long introductory statement from 2004 includes this sentence: “As our Island grows and develops, continued protection of varied open space areas and environmentally sensitive landscape is necessary to maintain the quality of life that is currently enjoyed on Bainbridge Island.”

That statement is good, as far as it goes.  The Planning Commission will consider adding this: “Additionally, the unpredictable cumulative impacts of climate change in our region justify appeals to the Precautionary Principle.  Climate change may require that the areas we protect and the approaches we use to achieve our goals and policies will change.”

(Here is a definition of the precautionary principle: “An approach to risk management, stating that if an activity carries a threat of causing serious harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that it should not be limited or prohibited falls on proponents of the activity.”)

Observed and anticipated impacts of climate change are mentioned many times in the recommended changes to the Environmental element, and they will be mentioned elsewhere in the Plan, largely thanks to the work of EcoAdapt, a local consulting firm headed by Lara Hansen.  (Lara and EcoAdapt are under contract to produce a Climate Impact Assessment for Bainbridge Island.)

The intent of many changes in the goals and policies is to make both citizens and City authorities less reactive, more pro-active in support of the community’s interests.  We must all bear in mind, however, that the Comprehensive Plan will only be as good as the Municipal Code, ordinances, and resolutions that implement the Plan.  And it’s my great hope that enlightened self-interest and citizen initiatives will stay out in front of what’s required by law.

The Planning Commission will be asked to give direction on a few matters that are not yet covered in the revised draft.  Also, there’s a substantial part of the 2004 version, dealing with a Greenways Plan, that has been tagged for review later, when we study non-motorized transportation planning in the Transportation Element.

The parts of the Environmental element of greatest interest to me pertain to agriculture (i. e., farm lands and farming) and the many parts of Bainbridge Island that remain forested, more or less in a natural state.

Farming, along with kitchen gardens and community gardens, is reviving and coming into some prominence within the culture of Bainbridge Island.  “No farms, no food!”  And although we have to rely on industrial agriculture and big-business suppliers for much that we eat, local and small-scale producers add quality to our diets and strength to our social fabric.

Over the long term, though, farming won’t flourish here if we don’t plan and provide land for agricultural uses.  To quote a statement from the draft, under the heading of “Agricultural Lands”: “Agriculture is a vulnerable enterprise in any rapidly growing area.”

If you’re concerned about suburban-style sprawl and escalating prices, think about the impact of those trends on land that is now devoted to farming, or could be if the cost of purchase or lease were compatible with a farmer’s income.  Further, in my view, open space devoted to crops or pasture is an invaluable antidote to the monotony and placelessness of subdivisions and big houses on small lots.

Open space and small lots devoted to agriculture contribute significantly to the Island-wide conservation strategy described (sketchily and optimistically) in the revised Land Use element.  Forest lands and significant trees, groves, and parks are even more important in this regard.

Two segments of the Environmental element are devoted to the Island’s forest resources.  The first, under the heading of “Forest Lands,” applies specifically to the dwindling number of “large tracts of second-growth timber” which, at least theoretically, exist to provide the property owners with commercially valuable timber and an opportunity to convert the land to non-forest uses.

In recent years, largely thanks to the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the foresight of many property owners, many acres of forest have been preserved.  Still, clearing and development have taken place that I (and other watchdogs more vigilant than I have been) consider reckless and wasteful.  And most of the time it’s ‘all perfectly legal.’

In several parts of the Municipal Code, the regulations relating to trees and forests are quite elaborate.  For the most part, what’s required, permitted, and prohibited is spelled out clearly, and planners know very well what part of the Code applies in a specific instance.

However, the several parts of the Code are not, as a whole, coherent.  “How could they be?” you might ask.  Well, they could be better, and the Comp Plan update can point in that direction, to be more responsive to the need for balance and compatibility between the pressures for development and conservation.

Under the heading of “Forest Lands,” a descriptive paragraph states that as of August this year, “529.34 acres were classified as timberlands by the Kitsap County Tax Assessor.”  That’s down from 620 acres in 2004.  The Planning Commission will consider adding to that descriptive paragraph: “These forest lands, together with tracts that are protected by conservancy agreements and other privately owned forested acres that may not be classified as timberlands, have immeasurable value within the Island-wide conservation strategy.”

The Goal statement (EN-23) has been revised by the drafting committee to read as follows: “Encourage the retention of forest land and multiple-aged forests, since healthy forests provide many ecological benefits to all forms of life on the Island.”  The policies linked to that goal emphasize stewardship, selective harvest, protection of critical areas, and (when land is converted from forest use) compact development that limits the extent of clearing and soil disturbance.

Several more policies are proposed under the heading of “Community Forests and Trees.”  Consider this revision of language from the 2004 Plan: “The community forests on Bainbridge Island are comprised of the street tree system in the urban center, trees in parks and on other public lands, and trees and forested areas on private properties throughout the Island.  Bainbridge Island’s urban and rural forests have historically been a source of community identity and civic pride.  Trees and forested areas are essential to the Island-wide conservation strategy.”

The 2004 Plan included this statement: “The Community Forestry commission should be supported and maintained to provide leadership in community outreach.”  As it happened, a few years ago, after the production of a Community Forest Management Plan (2006) and a Best Management Practices Manual (2007, 2010), a quarrel developed over Municipal Code regulations and the Forestry commission disbanded.

Times have changed, and the Planning Commission will consider this policy statement (EN 24.4): “A community-wide program to educate Island residents about the functions and values of trees should be put into effect.  The City should consider partnering with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and re-establishing a Community Forestry Commission.”

The agenda also calls for a review of public comment on the Economic element that was received during a workshop discussion on July 29.  Revision of that element will be our next big challenge.  I’ll miss the Planning Commission meeting on October 8, but I’ll be back in time for a meeting on October 15.

Stay tuned.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Environment, Farms, Long range planning, Parks, Place, Stewardship | Tagged | Comments Off on Comp Plan Update: Working on the Environmental Element

Comp Plan Update: “Completion” of the Land Use Element

Jon Quitslund

At the August 13 meeting, the Planning Commission agenda included an all-but-final review of the Land Use element, which has been through several stages of revision.  The meeting was sparsely attended (the crowd gathered nearby for the ‘Farm to Table’ spread offered by Friends of the Farms were surely better served) and nothing momentous happened in the Council chambers, but the Commissioners and City staff did their diligent best with some nit-picky details, and now we can move on to the Environmental element.

Here are some wrapping-up comments on the Land Use element, both on what it contains and on what remains to be done.

The Land Use element establishes a foundation for the Comprehensive Plan as a whole.  Several goals and policies are introduced there that will be more extensively handled in other elements (in the Environmental, Economic, and Water Resources elements, for example).

Working with the text of the 2004 Comp Plan, we did a good deal of trimming and reorganizing.  In the process, and not only in the most recent meeting, we encountered vehement objections from citizens who suspect that any change in the Comp Plan is likely to be for the worse.

On the contrary, I believe that in the revised Land Use element we have clarified and improved, considerably, the presentation of  proactive Goals and Policies.  Effective implementation of the policies through ordinances that revise the Municipal Code won’t be easy, but the new Plan will provide clearer pathways than we have had in the past.

Major improvements appear in the first five Goals and the associated Policies (pp. 7 to 13 in the current draft).  These are not all new; some have been brought to the front from the back pages of the 2004 Plan.  Together, they constitute an Island-Wide Land Use Strategy, and they modify the current strategy that sought to place 50% of new development in Winslow, 5% in the three Neighborhood Service Centers (primarily in Lynwood), and 45% dispersed elsewhere in the Open Space Residential zones.

The next segment (LU-6 through LU-12, pp. 14-18) carries the heading General Land Use: it further articulates the strategy and relates it to the GMA and Kitsap Regional Planning Council predictions of our population growth between 2010 and 2036.

The Island’s population in 2010 was 23,025; the estimated increase is 5,635 persons.  That number (24.5% over the 2010 census figure) is sometimes referred to as a “target,” and more accurately as an “allocation” – the share of estimated regional growth that we are obligated to plan for.

It has been established that without changes to current zoning regulations, Bainbridge Island has more than enough undeveloped and underdeveloped land to accommodate that increase in population.

Do we need to institute “pro-growth” policies, to “build so that they will come”?  Some people say that’s the long-standing Planning Department policy, and they deplore it.  They want the Comp Plan, in this update, to stop growth, or at least place stringent constraints on it.

I don’t see much wisdom, or even common sense, in the “no-growth” attitude, so long as we have property owners, architects, and builders who want to add something of value to the existing housing stock.  The cornerstone of land use regulations is that property owners have rights to the use (including development and sale) of their land, within the limits set by the applicable state and local regulations.  It’s this basic legal principle, and not an agenda that favors unlimited growth, that guides our planning staff and the Planning Commission.

I suppose I am, within limits, “pro-growth,” but more than that, I’m “pro-planning”: I’m wary of unrestrained market forces and profit motives.  And I agree with those who argue that development must be constrained by policies that conserve our natural resources and protect our community’s quality of life.

We need to plan for growth in our population; it’s happening all around us, and I think that (barring some regional disaster) growth in the next twenty years may outpace the current estimates.  We need to plan for turnover and flux: births, deaths, people moving here or moving away for all sorts of personal reasons.  I hope Bainbridge Island will, in the years ahead, attract and accommodate a demographic mix that is more diverse – economically, culturally, and age-wise – than we are now.

At the same time that we plan for growth, we need to plan for conservation and stewardship of all our natural resources.  Maybe climate change, and all the stresses and uncertainties that come with it, will make people more aware of the long-range thinking and day-to-day mindfulness that our privileged place in Puget Sound requires of us.

I mentioned above that the current 50/5/45 ratio for allocating growth to Winslow and other parts of the Island has been set aside.  Although there is capacity for some increase in population within Winslow (the urban core and the broader area served by the city’s water and sewer systems), it would be unrealistic to expect 50% of future growth to take place there.  Also, Lynwood Center is close to its capacity for residential development, and as things now stand, Rolling Bay and Island Center don’t have much capacity.

The new strategy is less Winslow-centric, and it responds to an emerging interest in clustering residential and small-scale commercial development in several parts of the Island, not only in the established NSC and Business/Industrial districts but in other “nodes” such as Port Madison and Fort Ward.

The strategy is introduced in Goal LU-1 as a long-term and Island-wide plan to combine, or to balance, conservation and development.  Can we do this?  It’s not impossible, but it will be difficult.  We don’t have the necessary regulations in place; in a series of large and small endeavors, the community’s political will is going to be tested in the years to come.  Regulations and sub-area plans aren’t all that will be needed.

Goal LU-2 reads, “Conserve the Island’s ecosystems and the green, natural, open character of its landscape.”  Island-wide, a large percentage of the Island’s undeveloped and under-developed acreage is in areas designated, in this goal statement and the policies under it, for conservation.  Policy LU 2.1 begins, “Preserve the open space area outside Centers through a land use pattern which will enhance the character of the area”; Policy LU 2.2 begins, “Protect open space, critical areas, and agricultural uses through public and private initiatives . . .”

These policies apply to areas zoned for low-density residential development (R-2, R-1, R-0.4), and some lots are constrained, even impractical to build upon, because of critical area conditions.  It’s appropriate, therefore, that conservation should be a priority in these areas, and the space cleared for housing should be limited.  But this will not happen consistently without more stringent regulations.

* * *

The Planning Commission will move on now to work on the Environmental element, and will return later to add to the Land Use element.  For example, we haven’t yet given adequate attention to Goal and Policy statements that respond to specific impacts of climate change.

Policy LU 8.1 acknowledges “that the carrying capacity of the Island is not known,” and this is a somewhat embarrassing admission.  I expect that before we’re done with the update, more information and some educated guesses can be brought to bear on this issue.

It has been proposed that the City’s parks, which exist (as a permitted use) on land zoned Residential, be re-classified through creation of a Park zone.  The benefits and possible drawbacks of this re-classification have yet to be fully explored, and no language that might be added to the Land Use element has been presented for discussion.

As I understand this matter, the re-zoning of land under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation District would involve the Planning Commission and the Council in the creation and approval of an Ordinance, but it seems that the first step would be a Comprehensive Plan amendment.

Stay tuned for these and other developments.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Long range planning | Comments Off on Comp Plan Update: “Completion” of the Land Use Element

The Update: What’s Happening in July

Jon Quitslund

Here’s another sketchy account of developments in the month ahead pertaining to the Comprehensive Plan.  There will be two Planning Commission meetings, on the 9th and the 23rd, and two Workshops for public comment: on the Environmental element, Wednesday July 22nd, and on the Economic element, Wednesday July 29 (both in City Hall, 6:30 to 8:30 p. m.).

I’ll comment on the workshops first, then on this month’s Planning Commission meetings.

Public participation in the Workshop sessions can make a big difference in how effectively each of the Comp Plan elements is revised.  We are still working to incorporate the ideas of citizens in the updated Land Use element.  By the end of July the drafting group will shift their focus to the Environmental and Economic elements, and if we can keep to the schedule, the public discussion and Planning Commission decisions on those parts of the Plan will be completed in September.

If you want to participate in either (or both) of the Workshops later in July, there are a few things to bear in mind.  First, read what’s in the current Plan, which is readily available on the Navigate Bainbridge part of the COBI website and can be downloaded.  The principal text of the Environmental element is 24 pp., and the Economic element is 20 pp.

Are the goals and policies in these parts of the current Plan fundamentally sound?  What is out of date?  What should be added, given your view of our current circumstances and the changes, in the foreseeable future, that we should either guard against or bring into being?

If there are passages in the current Plan that strike you as misguided or inadequate, the Workshops offer opportunities to blow the whistle.  Also, if you find that policies set out in the Plan are not being implemented, now is the time to say so, because implementation through ordinances and the Municipal Code will be crucial to the Update’s success.

You are urged, but not required, to put your thoughts in writing and send them to the Planning Department in advance of the Workshop meeting.  Check the Navigate Bainbridge page on the COBI website for more details.  Your written comments will be forwarded to Planning Commissioners.

There are reasons for looking at the Environmental and Economic elements in tandem and coordinating both of them with the Land Use element, which may be revisited and further revised as we go forward.  Within the Land Use goals and policies, there’s an obvious tension between development, in all its forms, and conservation, both of our essential and limited resources and the quality of life that accompanies our sense of place.

Why is “development” a bad word – a word that makes people wince?  It’s because we’ve seen development (i. e., growth) happen without effective conservation strategies.  And development will happen here; it’s all around the region and we can neither run nor hide.  But we can insist on conservation strategies that manage growth; we must.

For a long time, conservation (of water, land, energy, forests, wildlife) was a good idea and a private virtue, but not a focus of public policy, community standards and regulations.  Now, with development pressures increasing, we’re being tested: is there political will and popular support for a break away from ineffective laissez faire attitudes?

If there’s tension between conservation and development, a similar tension is evident when you ponder the agendas of “Environment” and “Economy” together.  Obviously, they are apt to be in conflict, and some would argue that the pursuit of economic gain is bound to harm the natural environment, so environmental protection and the precautionary principle must come first.

I tend to prefer both/and to either/or thinking, seeking a balance between the parts of a complex whole that exist in dynamic tension.  But that’s putting things too abstractly.  Coming down to earth, getting down to cases, let’s try to imagine an economy that can thrive within environmentally determined limits, and let’s recognize the economic potential of a healthy environment.

*  * *

In the two meetings this month, the Planning Commission has lots of work to do in revision of the Land Use element.  I expect that in the first meeting, on the 9th, we’ll confirm some changes in policies related to the Neighborhood Service Centers, and preserve the Transfer of Development Rights program – presumably with recommendations that will increase its usefulness.  Plans for an island-wide Conservation Strategy will be discussed: that’s going to be important, and it will form the basis for draft language that will be closely considered on July 23rd.

The agenda for July 9th also includes consideration of six distinct applications for Comp Plan amendments, and two other topics in response to proposals that were submitted during the Workshop on May 7th: policies in the High School Road district, and policies related to local agriculture and food security.

The drafting group will be working on revised language and policy directives for consideration by the Commission and public comment on July 23rd.  It’s been noted that we haven’t yet found ways to introduce responses to climate change in our Land Use policies.  Stay tuned.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Economy, Environment, Farms, Finite Natural Resources, Food, Long range planning, Place | Comments Off on The Update: What’s Happening in July

Transfer of Development Rights in the Comp Plan Update

Jon Quitslund

I’ve composed this post in order to organize my thoughts on a topic that will be discussed in the next Planning Commission meeting – tomorrow night.  So this is not the usual after-the-fact report, or a long-range forecast, but a tipping of my hand, or a kind of overture to the Commission’s deliberations.

The Land Use element of the 2004 Comprehensive Plan refers in several places to a program that permits the transfer of development rights from sending areas, where development could adversely affect critical areas and aquifer recharge, to receiving areas where infrastructure and other factors favor development above the density permitted by base zoning.

As defined in our TDR program, ‘sending areas’ are the undeveloped or under-developed areas of open space, forests, and agricultural acreage, and ‘receiving areas’ are in Winslow and the Neighborhood Service Centers.

In the Final Report of the 2025 Growth Advisory Committee, the implementation of a proposed Island-wide conservation plan relies upon such transfers of development rights as a way to protect designated areas and promote compact development of new homes.

However, for a number of reasons, the TDR program has been a flop.  Can it be fixed, or should it be replaced by something else?  In 2006 and 2008, COBI commissioned two studies by a Seattle-based firm, Community Attributes.  I find valuable information and useful recommendations in the two reports, but looking at them now I’m left wondering if the obstacles to success with TDR procedures can, or should, be removed.

Right up front in the longer of the two reports (Transfer of Development Rights Program Review, 2006), in the ‘Summary of Findings’ on pp. 9-12, eight findings are stated and explained, and they do not say anything good about our program.  On p. 14, several ‘Keys to Success’ are described, and as it stands the program falls short in almost every respect.

The first of the key factors that would support a TDR program – “A strong real estate market in receiving zones; ideally, the demand for development rights outweighs supply” – is worth discussing.  We have had a strong real estate market in receiving zones, but purchasing or otherwise qualifying for an FAR bonus has been “more predictable, easier, and cheaper for developers,” as the report points out (p. 12; see also pp. 19-20).  Furthermore, I’m not aware of property owners in the sending area who want to sell their development rights, even though they are valued higher per unit than rights in the receiving area.

Another item from p. 14 (see also p. 3) is “A TDR bank to facilitate transactions.”   This strikes me as essential to any success, if we see any need and opportunities to purchase development rights.  Currently, as I understand it, the TDR program requires match-making and a transaction between a willing buyer and a willing seller; I wonder if any two such people have ever found each other.

A “bank” of some sort (it might not be specifically a ‘TDR bank’), or a special-purpose fund within COBI, could be funded from FAR bonus payments and/or other sources, to purchase development rights in areas where the conservation value of an undeveloped lot outweighs the costs and benefits entailed in full exercise of the right conferred by zoning.  I don’t think there will be many opportunities for such purchases, but a small fund could be a problem-solver.

Both the TDR program and the two reviews of its flaws are, in my view, relics of a by-gone time in City government, when the Council and the administrative staff, including the elected Mayor, competed for the high ground and defended their separate prerogatives, without much in the way of results.  In those years some good policy initiatives were never implemented because they lacked the support of a majority on the Council.  As a consequence of this dissention, the Planning staff were sometimes stuck holding the bag, administering imperfect regulations and ineffectual programs because attempts at problem-solving had not been endorsed by the Council.

It’s time to let by-gones be by-gones.  Right now I am cautiously optimistic that we will come through the Comprehensive Plan update with a Council and an administrative staff under the City Manager that will trust and empower one another.  Let’s hope we will also have a community that is broadly supportive of the Comp Plan’s goals and its implementation.

Although it is clear that a TDR program has not worked on Bainbridge Island, and I doubt that a modified program will work in the future on a scale that makes a real difference, there’s a good reason why efforts were made to understand the obstacles and overcome them.  The basic purpose of such a program – “to preserve wetlands, high vulnerability recharge areas, agricultural land and open space” – certainly motivates planning efforts here, and the stakes are higher now than they were a decade or two ago.

So if not by a TDR program, we need to find other ways to prioritize conservation in some parts of the Island and promote dense or compact development in other areas, so that property development and population growth, as they happen, can be managed with minimal negative impacts on our resources and quality of life.

* * *

The drafting group has done some work on a conservation strategy.  The Planning Commission will discuss that topic on June 25th, and probably return to it on July 9th.  Attention will be focused on the part of the Land Use element devoted to Residential Open Space (i. e., the part of the Island zoned R-0.4 or R-1; see LU-25 to LU-29 in the text now being reviewed).

In the current draft, LU-25 opens with this Goal statement: “Adopt a conservation strategy to preserve the open space area outside Winslow and the Neighborhood Service Centers through a land use pattern that enhances the character of the area – forested areas, meadows, farms, scenic and winding roads that support all forms of transportation – and the valuable functions the open space area serves on the Island (i. e., aquifer recharge, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation).”

That’s a solid foundation for policy statements, and in the pages that follow, the current Comp Plan includes a number of policies that the update will reaffirm and enhance.  I’ll try to keep up with the ongoing work in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned.

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