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Will voters have a say in future of downtown?

Opponents of Winslow Tomorrow launch separate petition drives calling for a ballot.

On the Internet, and on paper petitions distributed at public events, the names are piling up.

So too are the protestations of islanders who say the community isn’t being included in Winslow Tomorrow.

Some of the opinions are curt. Others are expressed diplomatically and at length. But all share one common demand: the community should vote on Winslow Tomorrow.

“It’s not a novel idea,” said Kirsten Hytopoulos, who started one of two separate petitions that call for a vote on the long-range planning effort. “These proposals would mean a huge, expensive, radical change to our downtown. Any public funding for them should be put to a vote.”

The other petition, created last fall by islander Larry Koss, was presented at a recent City Council Community Relations Committee meeting. A committee report regarding the petition was on last Wednesday’s City Council agenda, but was deleted due to scheduling constraints.

Still, discussion about a Winslow Tomorrow vote is already taking place among those who – as the planning effort prepares to make its first tangible marks on the downtown landscape – fear irreparable harm could be done to Winslow.

City planners and a private firm are working together on the first Winslow Tomorrow-associated project, a streetscape design that will replace aging infrastructure beneath Winslow Way. The design, which will be 30 percent complete by this summer, also addresses road and sidewalk width and aesthetics. Public meetings will be scheduled later this summer, and construction is set to begin in 2009.

While many, including Hytopoulos and Koss, generally support the idea of improving sewer and utilities beneath the street, they are concerned about other proposed changes like those that would raise the maximum building height.

Separately they created petitions, which use slightly different wording, but convey a similar disdain for Winslow Tomorrow and what they perceive as a lack of public input.

Between the two petitions, which have been distributed in person and are available online, a few hundred signatures have been gathered. The total number can’t be determined precisely because they include anonymous signatures and because some people signed both petitions.

Koss said he gathered 171 signatures in just a few hours outside local grocery stores. He said he could have gotten more had he stayed longer, but he stopped because so many people weren’t educated about Winslow Tomorrow.

“The public process is totally obsolete,” he said. “The way cities inform the public isn’t sufficient. We’re at a very critical juncture right now and people have no visible picture of what these ideas are going to look like.”

But some, like former Winslow Tomorrow Manager Sandy Fischer, are wondering what a public vote might look like.

“How do you vote on something that was actually a community conversation about how to manage growth?” she said. “Do you vote to say we shouldn’t have had that conversation?”

Fischer said that as a compilation of 32 separate recommendations, Winslow Tomorrow can’t be adopted or rejected as a whole.

City Council member Debbie Vancil agreed, saying she sympathizes with Winslow Tomorrow detractors, but doesn’t think a vote is the solution.

Instead, she thinks the city needs to slow down and make a better effort to include the public in planning.

“It isn’t as much about having a vote as it is about the community wanting its voice to be heard,” Vancil said. “A lot of people feel like they’re being left out. The council has been left out as well.”

Councilman Nezam Tooloee said he thinks the idea of a Winslow Tomorrow vote ultimately will be made moot by the financial implications of the separate projects, which likely would require voter-approved funds anyway.

“There is no way in hell the city is going to be able to pay $20 million for Winslow Way without putting out a fund proposal that in part includes the approval of voters,” he said.

Still, Winslow Tomorrow opponents aren’t taking any chances. They too say they’ve thought about how a vote could be structured.

One option, Koss said, would be to have voters decide on projects, like the streetscape design or Waterfront Park redesign, as they arise.

“Layer it up,” Koss said. “You can ask people if they’re okay with a sewer plan. You can define a condo plan, you can define height. Let people vote.”

Koss contends that the city and developers are promoting growth rather than letting it occur naturally.

According to Hytopoulos, Winslow Tomorrow is flawed because it fails to address its many different components holistically, in a way that will ensure that its separate and sometimes competing elements remain aligned with the shared goals of the community.

Still, at some point, Fischer said, someone has to make some decisions.

“It’s time for the elected officials to show some leadership,” she said. “That’s what they were elected for, to lead. So lead.”

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See or sign them

Anti-Winslow Tomorrow petitions and their accompanying comments can be seen online. Larry Koss’ is at www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/434142163. Kirsten Hytopoulos’ petition can be found via www.savewinslowway.blogspot.com, a website created by Winslow Tomorrow opponents.

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