Go forth and plan, businesses urged

A city council committee is endorsing efforts by downtown property owners to reopen Winslow-area planning to incorporate “business-friendly” ideas.

The public works committee approved a resolution that supports a business-backed private planning effort, and committed $75,000 towards the continuation of that effort. The process will refine and incorporate the business community’s ideas into the formal plan for the downtown area.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity,” said committee chair Norm Wooldridge. “It would cost us two or three times as much to get to this stage” without the input of the business community.

Prompted by plans for Winslow Way that they believed would be detrimental to business, a consortium of property owners led by Larry Nakata of Town & Country and Tom Haggar of the clinic operated by Virginia Mason has committed $75,000 of private money to a new design effort.

The group asked the city to commit a like amount to pay for city staff work necessary to translate the owners’ comments into the city’s plans.

A resolution supporting a private/public effort was before the council last week, but stalled when citizens objected to the process.

“You wouldn’t give me $75,000 to rewrite the city code to my liking, so why would you give it to this private interest group, a minority voice that doesn’t represent the island?” asked Winslow resident Ryan Vancil.

While agreeing that the process needs public input, the committee said this week that the input need not occur until the business community devises its own proposals.

“The property owners want a clean shot at developing their own ideas,” said Wooldridge. “They may be reluctant to see their own money spent on public meetings.”

Architect Sean Parker, who will coordinate the business community planning along with partner Bill Isley, agreed that the group’s work will be the starting point.

“We will present those ideas to the council, give the council and the public a chance to chew on it, then have a public conversation at that point,” Parker said.

Committee member Bill Knobloch said getting business community buy-in may be critical to rebuilding downtown streets, a need brought about by deteriorating underground sewer and water pipes.

“In the future, the only way to pay for those major road projects may be publicly approved bond dollars,” he said. “Grass-roots participation in the planning is something we need.”

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