Still talking about downtown

The development of downtown Oak Harbor and its future are his main concerns, Mayor Jim Slowik said Thursday.

And while the shaky local economy has made the news, city revenues are currently above the budget, Slowik told the Chamber of Commerce during a meeting at the Elks Lodge.

Now in the second year of his term, Slowik gave a talk he dubbed “the state of the city” address.

“From as far back as the 1950s, the discussion began about ‘What are we doing with downtown?’” Slowik said.

The city council has zeroed in on several projects including those at Windjammer Park, the Oak Harbor Marina and Freund Marsh.

The city is also focusing on the redesign of Pioneer Way and the mayor asked for feedback from the business community.

“We need to remodel Pioneer first. It’s the first domino that needs to fall,” Slowik said.

Recently, the project hit a stumbling block, because about 35 of the Pioneer Way properties have ownership of the sidewalks, Slowik said. The city needs to aquire the right of way to begin the process.

Engineers are considering two options for the project: A two-way or a one-way street.

The two-way street would focus more on vehicles, with about five-foot sidewalks and fewer parking spaces.

The one-way option would put more emphasis on pedestrians, with wider sidewalks, bike lanes and slightly increased parking.

“This is the movement in small towns, to make it more pedestrian friendly,” Slowik said, adding that the engineering firm recommended a one-way street.

Oak Harbor’s economic situation is very mixed, Slowik said. The city’s revenue is down 6.2 percent from last year after the loss of a few car dealerships.

However, revenues are up 6.8 percent over the budget, which was figured conservatively last year, knowing tight times were on the way.

“We’re worried that we continue to do this well,” Slowik said, expressing concern about what the future holds economically.

He added that the positive revenue may have to do with taxes collected on the $69 million high school modernization project and business generated by Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The mayor also touched on the police and fire departments, reporting that crime has increased in a few major areas, including assault and burglary. The police department is stepping up its efforts in those areas, he said.

The audience questioned the mayor about the Pioneer Way improvement project, and how they might backtrack from the Seaplane Base with a one-way street.

Slowik said the street would begin at City Beach Street and end at Bayshore Drive, where people can turn off from the base. Certain one-way feeder streets may need to change direction.

Another concern was the loss of parking spaces, and a business owner said customers already have trouble finding parking.

The mayor updated the chamber on the agreement with Navy officials to open Maylor Point to the public, and plans to possibly create a commercial exhibit of Oak Harbor at Flintstone Park.

He also hopes to one day secure the $7.5 million needed to bury the overhead utility lines on Pioneer Way.

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