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Winslow design goals back in circulation

Concerned by what they see as a piecemeal approach to downtown planning, two local architects have fired interest in a new, broad look at Winslow traffic patterns and street design.

And they’ve caught the ear of Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who will convene a roundtable on the issues next month.

Kordonowy said the discussion could head off future “NIMBYism” as street improvements are proposed, giving residents a better view of how such changes fit into the overall plan for traffic circulation.

“I think our challenge is to say we’re managing for ‘change,’” Kordonowy said, “not managing for ‘growth.’”

The roundtable – which proponents say should be the kickoff for ongoing discussions and planning – is slated for 5-7 p.m. April 16 at city hall.

The panel will include architects Charles Wenzlau and Peter O’Connor; builder and Winslow Master Plan committee chair Andy Mueller; several planning and public works officials, a planning commissioner and a city council member; and a bicycling/pedestrian advocate.

Up for immediate discussion are the points of intersection, and conflict, between the city’s comprehensive plan, the Winslow Master Plan, the capital facilities document and the draft Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.

Also in play are plans for a task force on parking issues, while several proposed developments, including the “Re-Doogals” project at Ericksen/Winslow, are in the background.

The roundtable was proposed by O’Connor and Wenzlau, advocates for downtown “liveability” and reclamation of the built environment for pedestrian access, commerce and social interaction.

“A big opportunity is to enhance the character of each street in town,” Wenzlau said, “while meeting the needs of traffic circulation.”

They proposed the roundtable earlier this year, piqued by the discussion of Madison traffic calming and the proposed opening of Ericksen Avenue to Hildebrand Lane, without the context of an overall street plan.

Ericksen Avenue has been an epicenter of sorts, where neighbors, non-motorized advocates and council members have for months gone round and round over plans for sidewalks and bike lanes.

The Winslow Master Plan called for such amenities on both sides of the street. But the project was decried as too wide, and detrimental to the character of the neighborhood; design work now under way will give the council several configurations to choose from, including one that would eliminate landscaping to cut costs.

Wenzlau pointed to that clash as an example where planning documents and design standards leaned one way, while community sentiment leaned another.

Opening a dialogue on the character – current, and future – of Winslow residential and commercial strips can head off such conflicts in the future, he suggested.

The cause has also been taken up by several council members, who argue that projects now in the works should be delayed until a street plan is in place.

In limbo is design work for the stretch of Winslow Way from Ericksen Avenue to the highway.

Public works officials hope to see design for the project completed this year, in part so that it will meld with the “Re-Doogals” project. The issue was discussed at the last meeting of the council’s land use committee, but remains unresolved.

Wenzlau said he would like to see citizens and city officials look at current plans and design standards, then make a series of recommendations to guide future street projects.

The final step would be a visual representation of the concepts involved – drawings like those that came from several Winslow design “charettes” held a decade ago, showing how new developments and improved “streetscapes” would fit together.

Kordonowy agreed that visual aids are useful, as the city tries to steer growth into Winslow.

“We never painted a picture for people to know what that looked like,” she said, “even though everyone’s sure in their mind.”

The project may also reopen discussion on the re-design of Madison Avenue, a street seeing gradual redevelopment but thought of as pedestrian un-friendly.

An experimental traffic-calming project last year illustrated how as wider pedestrian areas, landscaping and on-street parking might enhance the built environment. But the project was widely ridiculed as unsightly and unsafe.

Wenzlau believes the concepts were good, and that changes could make the street a more vibrant place like Winslow Way.

“I think the failure was, it was thrown in people’s laps,” Wenzlau said of the traffic calming project. “Nobody knew what it was.

“What’ll make (the roundtable) successful is that people will be part of the education process from the beginning. They’ll know how we got here.”

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