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Dudley: Take back Oak Harbor’s $1 million
With Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley once again leading the charge, opponents of the SE Pioneer Way one-way street project took their case to the county.
During the public comment period of the Island County commissioners’ regular Monday meeting, the group bombarded the board with hundreds of pages of documents about the plan and how one-way streets are detrimental to residential shopping areas in the hopes of getting the commissioners to take a formal stand on the issue.
The consortium of project dissidents included Dudley, downtown property owners Kristi Jensen and Frank Scelzi, local business leader Stan Stanley, and former Oak Harbor resident and business owner Colleen Ladwig.
Dudley, who recently tipped off officials at the state Auditor’s Office that the city may be inappropriately using nondiscretionary funds to pay for certain aspects of the road project, was the first to speak. He told the commissioners he was there not as an elected official but as a “concerned citizen,” and that the board should also be concerned.
In 2007, the board awarded the city $1 million in Rural County Economic Development funds for the Pioneer Way reconfiguration project. While “it looked attractive and well worth your $1 million investment,” said Dudley, the one-way plan that is moving forward is not what the commissioners approved.
The city’s application described a two-way configuration and was based on elements contained in the Windjammer Plan, a document developed by marketing and community branding specialist Roger Brooks.
After reading excerpts of a formal letter written by Brooks denouncing the one-way plan, Dudley went on to say the council’s 2009 decision was made amidst great controversy. Not only were most downtown business owners against the plan, but he even went so far as to suggest that a fellow City Council member may have a conflict of interest.
“Bob Severns, great guy, voted for the one-way,” Dudley said. “He has property on Bayshore and possibly should have recused himself.”
Dudley’s claim could not be confirmed by press time nor could Severns be reached for comment.
Dudley asked the board to consider writing a “strongly worded letter” urging the council to reconsider the one-way decision or to take a more direct approach and take back the $1 million.
Stanley, a retired longtime business and development consultant and a former executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, claimed the board not only has the authority to rescind the money but implied that state law may obligate them to do so. The funds are meant for economic development and this project will do anything but, he said.
“I found overwhelming indication that one-way streets have a negative impact on retail business and the immediate vicinity,” said Stanley, citing numerous studies and news stories from across the country examining the effects of two-way versus one-way streets.
Scelzi and Jensen, downtown property owners currently involved in a legal debate with the city over the ownership of sidewalks on Pioneer Way, also addressed the board. Jensen told the commissioners that the council made its decision in spite of a petition signed by 2,500 people against a one-way plan, while Scelzi said the decision has resulted in the loss of about eight businesses.
The project is so unpopular, that many merchants are considering not renewing their leases, he claimed.
“Myself and others are facing bankruptcy, losing everything we’ve worked for our whole lives,” he said.
County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she was not prepared to make any comments on the delegation and its concerns, as she only just received the information.
She also said this was an issue that is more appropriate for the Council of Governments. While the board is the body that makes the final decision when it comes to economic development fund awards, its decision is based on the recommendations of the council, which is made up of county commissioners, mayors and commissioners from each port district.
The group is scheduled to meet today, Aug. 25, at 9 a.m. Commissioner John Dean said Tuesday afternoon that the issue is not on the agenda but may be discussed. He said he doubted any decisions would be made.