Streetscape will wait until 2010

Bronze Sculpture artist Jeff Oens stopped traffic while showing a pack of wolves to a client along Winslow Way last week. Island business owner Richard Nelson and his dog Duffy took a careful closer look at the cast creatures.  -
Bronze Sculpture artist Jeff Oens stopped traffic while showing a pack of wolves to a client along Winslow Way last week. Island business owner Richard Nelson and his dog Duffy took a careful closer look at the cast creatures.
— image credit:

Standing on shaky financial ground, City Councilors were poised this week to vote on what most agree is the most important capital project in the city’s history.

But before they could, they witnessed one last seismic shift to the city’s plans for Winslow Way.

“We’re not trying to pull a switcharoo,” said Project Manager Chris Wierzbicki at Wednesday’s council meeting. “We’re trying to put forward an approach that moves this in a positive direction.”

Instead of voting on a $1.3 million design contract to keep the project on track for a spring 2009 groundbreaking, city leaders discussed a new option – proposed by staff in a memo delivered to councilors that morning – that would split design into four phases and delay construction until 2010.

Wierzbicki said the new approach gives the city more time to put together funding for the project, which has grown increasingly contentious of late, due in part to news that city revenue projections are off by 10 percent. It also allows councilors an opportunity to check in at several points along the way, he said.

Under the revised plan, the first phase would run from May to September and would cost the city $240,000. It would include design for $11.3 million worth of basic infrastructure repairs, plus $1.4 million in optional above ground amenities.

The work would be paid for with $187,000 in bond money carried over from last year, plus $53,000 in utility funds; spending this year on the project would total $480,000.

The four phases together would cost the city nearly $1.5 million.

Councilors could vote on the first phase of the contract on May 14, though some would prefer to see the decision deferred.

Planners said delaying the work by one year will cost the city as much as $900,000 more than it would cost to begin next year.

In addition to the city’s revisions, Winslow Clinic owner Tom Haggar announced that a group of 10 downtown property owners has agreed to pay $1 million toward a local improvement district. Haggar said the contribution would pay for some of the aboveground features that have recently been cut by the city to save money.

The shift in the city’s tactics came after staff met individually with council members following the controversial April 9 council meeting, at which Barry Peters, Chris Snow, Kjell Stoknes and Hilary Franz voted to bring forward the original design contract.

Since that decision, Stoknes said, he changed his mind about moving ahead.

“One of the worst scenarios I can imagine is that we (pay) for design and find the revenue side of the picture doesn’t meet the financial needs of the city,” he said. “Until I understand our financial capacity, it’s going to be hard to vote to spend money on this or any other project.”

The city’s lack of money, along with concerns about the scope and schedule of the project, was enough to turn the political tides.

Even councilors who supported bringing forward the original contract said they preferred the new approach. Peters said he’s “more comfortable” taking on the project in phases

“We really do have significant financial concerns,” he said. “What I like about this is that it allows us to move forward in four steps rather than one huge jump.”

Still, most agreed the plan isn’t perfect. Council Chair Bill Knobloch said the new approach isn’t really new.

“It’s nothing more than a repackaging,” he said. “You can put lipstick on this thing, or dress it up any which way you want to. But this still comes down to whether we even have enough money to do a sewer line.”

Franz disagreed, saying the change is an effort to answer the many legitimate questions that have been raised about the project. She said the slower approach is good because it still allows the city to pursue grants – planners say there could be as much as $2 million in grant money available for the project – and because much of the money to be used for the first phase, since its part of an old bond, can only be spent on this project anyway.

“It’s not black and white,” she said. “There’s a lot of gray. Many of the people I’ve talked to about this think doing it this way makes much more sense.”

Franz is chair of the council’s Community Relations Committee, which has been in charge of the recently completed Community Priorities Survey. Results of the random phone survey were viewable for councilors, but not the public, prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

They weren’t unveiled sooner because planners didn’t want to skew a similar, non-scientific web survey that was still going on this week.

The results of both surveys will be released to the public at a workshop next Wednesday. As for Winslow Way, the sudden shift of tactics raised questions about process for some, since many people had come prepared to discuss a specific contract.

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said she disapproved of the project’s evolution. She said it should be developed within the context of the city’s capital plan, instead of on its own, a comment that was punctuated by applause from the large crowd gathered in the council chambers.

“Every month we come up with new ways to do things,” she said. “The public must think we’re completely daft, and I don’t blame them. It’s embarrassing.”

The crowd by then had thinned some. Earlier in the evening, several groups – most noticeably dozens of young soccer and lacrosse players – packed the room to lobby for their causes. City staff recently proposed several cuts to capital projects, including the city’s $300,000 contribution to two new artificial turf fields at Battle Point Park.

Knobloch said spending should be tied to priorities.

“What is not going to get accomplished if we choose to do the Heery Contract?” he said. “I think everyone is going to be quite surprised when we release the data from that community survey – Winslow Way is at the bottom of the priority list.”

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