Corrected: Speakers voice support for Oak Harbor's Pioneer Way project

Days after the SE Pioneer Way celebration, and just weeks before the November general election, Oak Harbor City Council and mayoral incumbents were confronted Oct. 18 with an unusually strong showing of public support at City Hall.

During public comment at the city council’s regular meeting that Tuesday, seven people took to the microphone to say how nice downtown looks, to offer their gratitude for the project and for the prior Saturday’s celebration.

Oak Harbor resident Coreen Lerch, who said she was there “on behalf of a lot of people who couldn’t make it,” thanked the city council, the mayor and the city’s “amazing staff” for all their hard work on the downtown project.

She specifically named City Engineer Eric Johnston, Engineers Larry Cort and Joe Stowell, and merchant liason Rhonda Severns for their efforts.

“I’ve been a proponent of this the whole time and I just say kudos to you for following through, for taking the criticism, keeping a thick skin and not letting all that negativity get you down,” Lerch said.

She went on to read a letter from Jennifer Bachmann, the owner of West Coast Style Co. In the letter, Bachmann claimed that Saturday’s activities resulted in her best day ever. Bachmann opened her downtown store last month.

Lerch’s mother-in-law, Kay Coolidge of Popsies Gourmet Popcorn & Specialty Sweet Shop, echoed Bachmann’s comments.

“Popsies had the biggest day it’s ever had Saturday,” Coolidge said.

Coolidge, who opened her sweets shop in 2006, said not everything about construction was horrible. She also said that while some merchants may have felt like project decisions should have been theirs to make, the work downtown is for all of Oak Harbor.

“The fact is that street is going to be a great blessing, and comfort and gathering place for this whole community,” she said. “I think that’s a great thing.”

Merchants Kathy Collantes of Angelo’s Caffe, Bob Olson of Whidbey Wild Bird, and Naomi Schneider of Collage also took to the podium to offer their thanks for the project and Saturdays event in particular.

“Not in 30 years have I felt that sense of community,” Schneider said.

Jim Flowers, of Flowers Marine, said he also liked the new downtown and told Mayor Jim Slowik that he was fortunate to have such a progressive city council. Although mistakes have been made, he said that’s just part of being “bold leaders.”

“I guess I’m concerned there are even more mistakes in missed opportunities and worrying things to death,” Flowers said. “Sometimes you just got to do something.”

Even some project critics grudgingly offered compliments. Cecil Pierce made it clear he was not a proponent of the one-way street design, but said he had to admit that it was a good event for downtown merchants.

“I prefer the two-way,” Pierce said. “But for the merchants of Oak Harbor, I think Saturday was a great day.”

Shane Hoffmire said he also thought the community came together well Saturday but stopped short of offering up any praise to the mayor or the city council. A stark two-way supporter, Hoffmire said that support at the ribbon cutting was for businesses, not city leaders. It’s easy to be progressive when you’re spending taxpayers’ money, he said, and he’s looking forward to November.

“I have a lot of faith in the electorate,” Hoffmire said.


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