Island Forum

Oak Harbor City candidates tell us what they think can be done for downtown and the waterfront.

“What, if anything, should the city do to change the character of the downtown and waterfront? What would your goal be for those efforts?MAYOR By Richard DavisThe Old Town area and waterfront define Oak Harbor’s character. Most residents would like to see this as a place we can meet, shop, dine, socialize, and enjoy recreational activities. We need to create a strong focus for the downtown as our community’s heart. A pedestrian emphasis is important. As an access point for water transportation, the areas near the new dock would be a place to walk around, meet others, and enjoy a meal. Shops, parks, plazas, and restaurants would enhance this as a meeting place. The dock, the Harbor Walk, performing arts center, Navy PBY Memorial, tideland-wildlife interpretive center, shops and meeting places would create a social center for the community. Each would enhance the other. Before or after a concert, we might walk the dock, explore the shops or have a casual meal. Visitors would spend time and their money here. I strongly believe that we need to create the critical mass to energize the downtown area. This could be a museum, regional arts or science center, or conference facility which would draw us and our visitors to the downtown area. This resource would create the pedestrian traffic necessary for the success of the local shops and restaurants. All of this would be accomplished using a variety of resources. The city leaders and staff would be important in creating a positive environment for these changes. They would encourage communications between the existing groups, provide guidance for these projects, as well as seek state, federal and private funds to complete them. One of my most important roles as mayor would be to communicate this vision and to encourage the entire community to create our future together. Working together with a firm goal, we can energize the downtown, which will positively affect the entire community.Richard Davis is a local financial planner, chartered financial consultant, and City Council member. He has held leadership positions in many organizations, including Island District Boy Scouts, Armed Services YMCA, United Way, Rotary, and professional organizations. Davis helped create the Heritage Way tree project, the Pioneer Way beautification and the soon-to-be completed Beeksma Park.By Patty CohenIt has been said that we take stock of a city like we take stock of a man. The clothes or appearance are the externals by which we judge. If we were to use this standard to judge Oak Harbor, what does our community appearance say about us? It is a strong factor in our ability to retain old businesses and residents and attract new ones.City government cannot legislate character. What government can do is create a political environment that allows and encourages an agreed upon city image to emerge. It must accept responsibility to adopt policies and attitudes that guide management and administration of an agreed-upon city character.About eight years ago, the Downtown Development Committee asked some important questions about what the downtown was trying to be — “what exactly is its identity, and how does it fit into the big picture?” Even though numerous studies have been conducted on the downtown, the process to develop a strategic plan for the downtown and waterfront has never been done. This is a planning effort that must include the citizens, businesses, and elected officials. It is a plan that respects the architecture of the community; a plan that strengthens the area history and the environment rather than the off the shelf, could be anywhere design.We are surrounded by excellent examples of communities with a strong sense of identity. Anacortes, La Conner, Port Townsend and Langley have all demonstrated a commitment with a design in mind. Development tools were created to make it happen. I believe it is necessary to the process that techniques like: design controls, incentive zoning, special districting, use of covenants, and performance standards all become options to guide city image. Architectural themes can be adopted and incentives created that provide for art features, walkways, fountains, awnings and sidewalk experiences.None of these cities would have moved forward without the community first demanding and supporting a dramatic change in its urban image. Building a strong urban image comes down to this: Decide what our city is and can be — and commit to it. We are at a critical turning point in defining our community. Our waterfront has five strong projects that could, if implemented, change the identity and image of this town as we know it. Pier project, walkway from City Beach to Maylor’s Point, performing arts center, harbor hotel/conference center, preserving the heart and soul of community, our downtown — I believe we are really ready to take the first step. It is time we did something other than just talk about it!Patty Cohen is a medical technologist and former four-term city councilperson. She has worked on the Downtown Development Campaign, on City Beach Park redevelopment and on the Partnership With Youth and Island Transit boards. She also serves on a board to develop a local performing arts center. CITY COUNCIL, POSITION 1By John R. “Bob” MorrisonAs we begin this forum, I once again wish that my opponent had not been forced to withdraw by circumstances beyond his control. This is an issue we could have debated and had spirited discussion. What should be done with the character of the downtown and waterfront? I feel that the waterfront will and should be developed in a sensible manner. If we do indeed build a new dock or pier, it can be no more than a beginning. We can talk of passenger ferry service and what it can do, but what it is really good for is people on the island who would want to go to Everett or where ever the south end would be, and return. If we want traffic from the south to come to Oak Harbor there has to be a reason for the trip. I doubt if many will make the trip to see our marvelous new dock. I am not belittling the dock project or the people that have done so much. I think it is one of the finest things we have done in a long time. The dock needs to serve as a means to an end. We need to look at a board walk that has often been talked about. A cultural or community center at the Freund marsh. The possibility of a downtown hotel on the waterfront, to be built on available land. The character of Oak Harbor used to be the characters of Oak Harbor. These were the people who had pride, and put pride in Oak Harbor. We need that pride back. We need to encourage local ownership of downtown properties. We need to dress up the watersides of our shops and buildings. When we complete our dock, we need to be ready to receive visitors, we need a character that makes people want to make the trip. We will be able to promote and take advantage of corporate retreats and other business use of our facilities. We just need to see that we have facilities for them to use, and a unique place with its own character that they want to see, visit and return to.John R. “Bob’’ Morrison has lived in Oak Harbor for 30 years. He is a Navy veteran, currently employed by Delex Systems, Inc., an instructional systems development firm that contracts with Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.CITY COUNCIL, POS. 2By PAUL BREWERThe city needs to go forward on the Maylor Pier project as a magnet attraction. The large number of tourists we enjoy from Deception Pass need to be drawn into the downtown core and given reasons to stay overnight. I had discussed a trolley or a special transit bus, as Bellingham has, to make the trip from Deception Pass more enjoyable.A conference, or performing arts center, could give additional reasons for visitors to think of Oak Harbor as something other than a drive-through experience. We still lack a common theme for our downtown area. The development of a theme could help shape building design and marketing efforts for the future.Paul Brewer is a current city councilman and the director of the recycling program at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He is running for his second council term.By Eric KingCity government can pass the zoning changes recommended by the city staff for the Downtown Business District. These changes are needed to allow us to create a more pleasant downtown when individual property owners do decide to make improvements. It is the property owners, not government, who will revitalize the area when it becomes economically feasible to do so.For that to happen we need the municipal pier to create a focus for our waterfront. Along with that focus we need the hotel–convention center on Bayshore Drive. This economic engine will bring seminar attendees and other visitors here for longer periods, bringing the additional spendable dollars that make a return on investment possible for the downtown property owners. Only then can we expect to see any of the improvements studied and hoped for over the years begin to happen.Eric King has served on the Comprehensive Plan Task Force for three years and, along with his wife Becky, owns Whidbey Printers.CITY COUNCIL, POS. #3By Rex HankinsI would like to see the waterfront developed into an even more inviting place to be enjoyed by all Oak Harbor citizens. I would like to see a boardwak running from the Freund marshlands all the way to Maylor Point. Another asset would be a pier open to the public for fishing, enjoying the view, etc. It could also be used for tour craft and daytime mooring.Changing the character of downtown is more difficult because it depends a lot on the wishes and decisions of the property owners, some of whom are absentee landowners. It will take a lot of negotiating and creative problem-solving to revitalize our downtown.I am a very practical, retired businessman who likes to look at both sides of an issue in great detail before I make my decision.Rex Hankins is a current city councilman and a retired executive in the technology industry. He is running for his second term on the council.By Helen Chatfield-WeeksThe city should pursue all grants to accomplish the building of the proposed municipal pier. The addition of a pier and support buildings would enhance the waterfront. With Island Transit located across the street, a transportation link is provided. My goal would be to get all groups together who have had studies done or have an interest in the downtown area, and get them talking to one another. Together, we could successfully seek the funding and the support needed to change the character of the downtown and at long last, utilize our natural, beautiful waterfront. Our pier and trails would benefit local citizens and visitors alike. A multi-purpose room in Flintstone Park could serve as a favorite spot for picnics and parties. Bicyclists and walkers could continue on the waterfront trail through City Beach Park to the proposed Freund Marsh, all the while taking in the magnificent panoramic view which often includes Mount Rainier in the distance. I would also encourage the revitalization of the core of Old Town commercial district. I would work to see what grants and other sources of funds, other than taxpayers, could be utilized to encourage beautification and enhancement of downtown Oak Harbor.Helen Chatfield-Weeks is a write-in candidate for City Council position 3. She has lived on Whidbey Island for 30 years and is an award-winning photojournalist. She has been a volunteer in Oak Harbor schools, serves on the board of the Oak Harbor Area Council of Navy League and is a charter member of Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor. She is also chair of the Oak Harbor Municipal Pier Committee, chair of the Oak Harbor Parks Board, a Chamber of Commerce ambassador, and a member of the League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women.”