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Bay Street developers anxiously await DOD

Deb Townsend and Don Dahl have a dream for Bay Street.

But the downtown building holds a bookstore and a tattoo parlor and the empty unit that held another bookstore is long in need of repair. It displays a large, orange “For Lease” sign in its window enticing businesses to take another attempt at surviving in the hotly disputed downtown corridor.

“Our building is 100 years old and it’s time to renovate and/or replace it,” Townsend said.

While the Port Orchard City Council debates the Downtown Overlay District, property owners, developers and architects sit anxiously at the starting line waiting for the gun to fire.

The great development race looks to start soon. Last week, the council held the held its last session of open testimony and scheduled two dates to debate the Downtown Overlay District. If everything goes according to plan, the finalized draft of the DOD could be voted on by May 28.

Developers have been waiting for more than a year to begin, and several, including Townsend and Dahl, are unable to make any plans until the specifics of the document are decided.

“We realized after we put these dreams on paper that it could completely go down the tube,” Townsend said.

During the debate over the DOD, lasting well over a year, the word “developer” became something of derogatory term among residents. Some residents fear the revitalization of Bay Street will result in tall, unattractive buildings profiting developers at the cost of Port Orchard’s character.

During the March 18 height exercise conducted by City Councilman John Clauson, Kathy Michael said the concern is not merely the protection of views, but maintaining the small-town character of the town.

Michael equated allowing 55-foot buildings downtown to “putting two aircraft carriers on either side of Bay Street.”

Still, the collection of building owners, developers and architects looking to revitalize downtown is as varied as the regulation options the council is examining.

Although the parties interested in building downtown range from local business owners to outside investors, they seem to agree on two main points — the revitalization will be good for Port Orchard and the height will determine the quality of the buildings.

Rudy Swansen and Ron Rider have also begun dreaming up ideas for their lots on Bay Street. Swanson and Rider want to combine their three lots and jointly develop a new mixed-use building.

“We’re going to trick it out,” Swansen said last week, looking over several drawings of potential buildings.

Swansen’s building plans currently call for a reduced footprint on the higher floors, incorporating LEED standards and lining it with molded stone structures displaying the history of Port Orchard.

But to trick it out, Swansen is hoping for the same thing most other developers are - five stories.

At the final public comment session to talk about the DOD with the city council, Richard Swartz of Amajin Architecture said the shorter the building, the lower the quality.

If the net return on the building is smaller, due to fewer units in a building, the quality of materials used in the building will suffer.

As he said it, other developers present nodded their heads in agreement.

Mansour Samadpour, owner and president of IEH Laboratories in Lake Forest Park, owns six buildings along Bay Street — all of which he is right now maintaining, but not remodeling or rebuilding.

To redevelop, though, he said five stories is necessary to balance the high cost of building.

“On the water side, it’s going to be difficult and expensive to build,” Samadpour said. “There has to be enough height to average out the cost.”

The height is necessary, some developers have said, because the cost of redevelopment of a property soars into the multiple millions.

“Most people that own property in the commercial district have a lot more at stakes and a lot more invested in their property than the private property owners,” Ron Rider said. “They don’t understand that somebody is risking their credit and may be putting their house on the line trying to make business work.”

Rider and Swansen’s proposed building will cost up to $6 million, Rider said, and the upper-floor condominiums on mixed-use developments help balance that cost out.

Bart Berguist, president of Lumbard Investment, is working with Richard Swartz at Amajin Architecture to build on the East end of Bay Street. He contends developments will help the local community and increase property values.

He said that if the surrounding residents suffer from a development, the development itself suffers.

The property he would like to develop sits under a high ridge, and with a five-story building he would not block any views. He hopes to build something that would increase the property values of his own property and those around it.

“We’re trying to build something that’s going to be good for everything,” Berguist said. “If you degrade anybody’s property, you’re detracting from the whole aspect of the project.”

Swartz previously represented clients interested in developing the property where his business sits, and the one just East of it on Bay Street.

After the developers invested $175,000 into the project, Swartz had to advise them in a feasibility study that they could not pursue the project soon.

For the moment, any plans rest on the final decision made by the City Council in May at the earliest.

Swansen said that his and Rider’s building will conform to whatever the Council decides.

“You don’t get everything you want all the time,” Swansen said, “but you gotta adapt.”

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