Pioneer Way one-way design plans debuted
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
June 25, 2010 · 3:59 PM
At a public workshop designed to gather community input this week, Oak Harbor residents got their first glimpse and a chance to comment on the aesthetic designs being laid down for SE Pioneer Way, which is set to become a one-way street in 2011.
While the design work for the $8.35 million project is still incomplete, there weren’t a whole lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the approximately 30 people in attendance, most of whom were downtown merchants or property owners. Many voiced concerns that ranged in topic from possible decorative trees to lighting and sewer lines.
However, city officials were pleased with the meeting nonetheless.
“We had the workshop to get input and that’s what we got,” City Engineer Eric Johnston said.
“I feel it went very well,” he said.
Held in the Oak Harbor Yacht Club ballroom, the workshop was sponsored by the city but facilitated by EnviroIssues, the Seattle-based consulting firm hired to help design the project and work with business owners that may be impacted. Representatives from the firm spent about 45 minutes going over aesthetic design elements of the street project.
The topic that generated the most public comment concerned the decorative trees being proposed for sidewalks. Nothing has been decided yet, but the firm said any trees planted would be zelkovas, a water hardy and narrow-growing tree well suited for life on a city street, said Colie Hough-Beck, a landscape architect with EnviroIssues. Their narrow leaves also are less prone to clog storm drains, she said.
However, several in the crowd were not convinced.
“I went through this 26 years ago,” said Butch Laurion, director for the Oak Harbor YMCA.
He claimed he was told similar things the last time the city planted trees on Pioneer Way and they have since become a major headache, not only clogging storm drains but growing so large they tangle in power lines and buckle sidewalks with their roots.
Kristi Jensen, a real estate agent and a member of the Oak Harbor Planning Commission, said she was part of a “streetscape” committee charged with coming up with design elements for Pioneer Way five years ago. They examined the tree issue closely, going so far as to have an arborist from Olympia give them a presentation. According to Jensen, the specialist said that tree roots are impossible to contain and will eventually damage sidewalks.
“They sounded like a big mess,” she said.
Hough-Beck said that was true but techniques, such as leaving lots of room beneath the tree for root growth, would be employed. Johnston was also quick to remind everyone that the workshop was meant to find out what people wanted. Trees are by no means a sure thing, he said.
“If the community as a whole says no to street trees, there will be no street trees,” Johnston said.
Others were concerned about the construction timeline. Initially, work was to begin Jan. 1 but the start date has been pushed out to Feb. 1 due to the complexity of burying utilities underground, Johnston said. The news was distressing for some shop owners because the longer the delay, the more likely construction will carry into the summer shopping season. Winter is the time to do the work, said Kathy Collantes, owner of Angelo’s Caffe.
“Everything shuts down here in winter,” she said.
Also discussed were aesthetics such as patterned, or cobbled, street corners; various public bench and plant pot designs; and street lamps, which will utilize light-emitting diodes, more commonly referred to as LEDs. Dan Hansen, deputy director for Perteet, a Seattle subcontractor for EnviroIssues, said the LEDs and other low impact development strategies planned are more expensive upfront but are cost savers over the long term.
Following the presentation, Johnston reminded the crowd that “this is your project” and encouraged everyone to submit comments in writing. While many attendees did take the time to jot down their thoughts, others made it clear the improvement project remains a controversial issue. Jensen said she thought the meeting “was a joke” and that she doubted many of the comments would be taken seriously.
“This was just a ‘check the box,’” Jensen said. “They only held the meeting so they could say they asked for public comment.”
However, not everyone was so suspicious. Property owner Rick Rennebohm declined to weigh-in on the decision to do the project, but he did say he was grateful that it is finally under way.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
Written comments will continue to be accepted until July 1, and can be submitted by e-mail to Russ Pabarcus at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to 865 SE Barrington Drive, 98277.Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.