Change doesn’t come quickly or easily to Day Island.
At the end of their bridge in University Place city limits, residents continue to drive roads platted during World War I that aren’t wide enough to let two cars pass.
Some live on tiny lots in homes bunched wall-to-wall and roof-to-roof, built on pilings from their days as fishing shacks in the early 1900s.
Some folks have made Day Island their home for more than 60 years. They appreciate the escape from urban life that the island – actually a peninsula – affords them.
“This is a tranquil village, so to speak, and we want it to remain like that,” said Ernie Lackman, a retired hardware store owner who’s lived here 20 years.
But a proposed land-use change has disturbed the peace cherished in this community of about 130 homes. Upset residents have turned out at city meetings en masse, a petition has circulated, and signs proclaiming “Preserve Day Island” have popped up in front of many houses.
The source of their anger is the City of University Place’s proposed rezone of the only commercial business on the island, a privately owned marina called the Day Island Yacht Harbor.
The rezone is among numerous changes the city is reviewing as it updates its shoreline management rules. The changes are mandated by the state to protect fragile shorelines and water-dependent uses, among other goals.
Day Island is zoned entirely residential. More than a decade ago, however, the city amended its zoning code to allow existing marinas to operate in these zones. University Place has two other marinas, the Narrows Marina and the Day Island Yacht Club – both located off the island.
The change prevented future redevelopment or expansion at the marinas.
Now the city planning commission is considering another zoning change that would allow retail, office and residential uses at the marinas, much to the chagrin of many Day Island residents.
Principal Planner Jeff Boers said it grew out of a recognition that a residential zone is a not a good place to harbor marinas; it’s also intended to open economic development opportunities for them.
Brian McGuire owns Day Island Yacht Harbor and lives on the island. He was appointed to an advisory group that has met 31 times over two years. Boers said McGuire has sought greater flexibility to change some uses at his marina in the future. McGuire said in an interview that it was the city and state that were pushing for the change.
Responding to the community concerns, the planning commission has been considering different regulations for marinas. Under one proposal, for instance, retail uses such as a bait shop or convenience store at the Day Island Yacht Harbor would be limited to 1,500 square feet, while the city’s other two marinas wouldn’t be subject to that limit.
But residents fear any expansion would attract crime, increase traffic and cause delays in emergency response.
“We want to keep a firewall between residential and commercial,” said Lafe Altier, who’s lived on the island 41 years.
Altier also expressed doubts that the city would stand up to McGuire, given that he prevailed against the city in the state’s highest court to preserve mining rights to two properties he owns near University Place’s southern gateway.
Residents echoed the safety concerns to city planning commissioners at a public hearing Wednesday night. They also said they don’t trust McGuire and questioned his motives.
McGuire’s lawyer, Bill Lynn, tried to quell the controversy. He told planning commissioners that his client had heard opponents, was no longer interested in different uses and would continue to operate it as a marina only.
“Nothing else is going to survive there but a marina,” McGuire said Friday. “It’s too far away.”
At one point during Wednesday’s hearing, some neighbors shouted Lynn down as they complained he wasn’t complying with the three-minute limit for testimony.
Lynn said the narrow streets are problematic for McGuire’s marina. They would be as difficult to navigate for customers of potential lodging or restaurants as they are for residents, he said.
“It’s just not practical” to do a major marina expansion, he said.
Lynn also slapped down accusations that McGuire secretly bent the advisory group to his will. He noted the group’s meetings were advertised and open to the public; he said it was “not a smoke-filled room created for special favors” that benefit his client.
The planning commission next month will forward its recommendation to the City Council, which could make a decision as early as July. Meanwhile, residents hope the policy storm passes and peace returns to Day Island.
“We don’t want it to change,” Jay Gallinatti told planning commissioners. “We moved here because we like it the way it is.”