Winslow Way sees accord... sort of

For once, nearly everyone on the City Council agreed about Winslow Way.

Slated to vote Wednesday on a newly restructured design contract for the project, councilors instead agreed to send it back to committee for more work.

“This is a really important project and if we’re going to start building trust in the community with this project, I really feel we need to make sure this contract has been vetted legally as a basic starting point,” Councilwoman Kim Brackett said. “I would never approve a contract on the fly without seeing it completely written out, fully vetted, I’s dotted, T’s crossed.”?

Those words came after an exchange between Brackett and City Attorney Paul McMurray, in which McMurray said he hadn’t reviewed the contract, and after several other councilors – even those who previously supported moving ahead –?said they too had reservations about approving the package.

“I have issues with the contract because it approves basically the whole contract,” Councilman Kjell Stoknes said.

The whole contract in this case is $1.5 million worth of design by Heery International, including $240,000 for the first of four phases within the larger contract.

The inclusion of money for more public outreach – such as monthly meetings with business owners and information booths at the Grand Old Fourth Parade –?also was a sticking point for some.

The council’s Public Works and Transportation Committee will work with staff to make changes to the contract before it makes another appearance before the full council.

Money talk again framed the Winslow Way conversation, as councilors and city staff continued work on the city’s capital plan prior to the regular meeting.

Final numbers from last year are still due at the end of the month, and the final 2008 budget was unveiled this week.

Looking ahead, leaders reiterated that there’s little room for unforeseen expenses; along with freezing $500,000 in contingency money, the council approved $718,000 in operating reductions as part of $1.866 million in total cuts.

Some councilors lauded staff for making so many adjustments so quickly. Others remained solemn about the task ahead, with too many projects and the continuing lag in revenue.?

“I can’t feel quite as jolly about this because I don’t feel that our revenue projections were on track in January,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil. “In order to get where we are today we have reneged on promises and commitments that we’ve made to organizations and community groups that have already moved forward and funded or planned.

“Non-motorized, roads preservation, trails acquisition, affordable housing are all taking huge hits,” she said. “We did just finish doing a survey where those things rose to the top, and yet we’re looking at financial capacity analysis to do our projects, but those things aren’t included.”

Some councilors expressed concern about voting on changes that were crafted the day before at the council Finance Committee meeting. Typically, leaders and community members have more time to digest the information before a decision is made.

Finance Committee Chair Chris Snow said the council needs to act more decisively.

“I think that it is time as we reach midyear to put to bed a budget for the year that is already half over,” he said. “As time passes, the options that remain available for us to make changes to the budget, up or down, disappear.”

Council Chair Bill Knobloch found a positive in the current draft of the capital plan, which won’t be finalized until June.?

“I have never ever in my tenure in office seen a capital facilities plan like this that is so simple and so basic,” he said. “I’m stunned that we might not even have a problem getting through it because of the lack of projects we have.”

One big ticket project was officially yanked from the city’s plans Wednesday – a deal by local housing agencies and the city to purchase and preserve as affordable housing the Quay Bainbridge Apartments. Dealbrokers and Quay owners signed a purchase and sale agreement earlier this year that will be voided, via a contingency clause, due to an appraisal that came in more than $3 million short of the agreed $12.6 million sale price.

“It has fallen to me to confirm publicly what you already know,” said Ed Kushner, spokesman for a group of private donors who contributed $1 million to the project. “The transaction will not proceed, the plug has been pulled, the life support effort has ended, the Quay project is over.”

Some hope to shift the affordable housing discussion to an effort to build new units on donated land on Ferncliff Avenue.

Housing Resources Board Executive Director Carl Florea said that project has an upside.

“The good news is I’ll get you into that one for a fraction of what the Quay would have cost,” he said.

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