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Oak Harbor merchants oppose one-way street plan

Miki and Scott Wotring, owners of Good Times, have a copy of the Harborside Merchants’ petition for a two-way street downtown at the front of their Oak Harbor restaurant. Scott is designing a Web site for “Citizens for a Strong Downtown.” - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Miki and Scott Wotring, owners of Good Times, have a copy of the Harborside Merchants’ petition for a two-way street downtown at the front of their Oak Harbor restaurant. Scott is designing a Web site for “Citizens for a Strong Downtown.”
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

A group of downtown businesses, known as the Harborside Merchants, has launched a campaign against the Oak Harbor City Council’s vote to transform Pioneer Way into a one-way street.

They’ve already picked up political support from newly elected City Council member Scott Dudley, whose vote could help overturn the one-way decision.

Fourteen downtown business owners attended a special meeting of the group this week where they voted 12-2 to urge council members to reconsider their vote on the one-way street design downtown.

They also voted 12-2 in support of the formation of a new community action group, “Citizens for a Strong Downtown.”

The new group will work to overturn the council’s Dec. 1 downtown revitalization decision, which came on a 4-3 vote.

In the coming days and weeks, the group will ask for support from the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, collect signatures for a petition and create a Web site, oakharborstrong.org.

“As a group we are going to push, push, push, push, push,” said Ron Apgar, owner of Paint Your World. “We have to pound them to get back to two way.”

The merchants’ major concerns are two-fold, entailing both the downtown revitalization construction project and its one-way component.

They’re worried about construction’s effect on business traffic and that there are still too may unanswered questions, such as how and what time of day street and utility work will occur. The only concrete construction details are the one-way design and the anticipated start date, January 2011.

The waterline replacement caused severe economic stress downtown, said Frank Scelzi, the owner of several downtown buildings.

“The Purple Moon only made $100 in two weeks during the waterline construction,” he said. “It’s going to be a disaster.”

The City Council’s decision to embrace the one-way street design is the merchants’ second beef.

“It’s ridiculous to spend such a large amount of money without any traffic or business impact studies,” Scelzi said.

“I stand to lose everything I’ve worked for all my life,” he added. “There is nothing positive about one way.”

“Is the city prepared to cope with the loss of tax revenue if downtown businesses tank?” asked Chris Pantoleon, the owner of Zorba’s restaurant.

Incoming City Councilman Dudley, elected in November, wasn’t at the Harborside Merchants meeting, but he’s also uneasy about the council’s decision to turn Pioneer into a one-way street.

“We might be wise to listen to (the downtown business owners). I would have listened to them,” he told the Whidbey News-Times. “What if they’re right? At what point to we admit our mistake?”

“Do I have concerns? Absolutely,” Dudley said. “We’re going to spend $8.35 million on an experiment and we don’t know what the end result is going to be. What is it going to do to the businesses, traffic flow and property values?”

Dudley said the vote would have gone differently if it had been taken on Jan. 5, his first day on council.

“I would have voted two way,” he said. “Why did they do it two meetings before (I take office)? I think it was done hastily.”

Dudley will replace Councilman Eric Gerber, who voted in favor of the one-way street option.

Dudley’s support for a two-way option wasn’t always so strong. During his campaign for city council, Dudley repeatedly dodged questions about the Pioneer Way revitalization during interviews with the Whidbey News-Times.

Dudley is now hopeful the one-way decision can be reversed.

“Some may have the idea that once the City Council makes a decision, it’s done. Well, it can be reconsidered,” Dudley said, making reference to a former council’s vote that overturned its decision in 2004 to cut down the historic Garry oak tree at the post office.

“It’s possible,” he said.

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