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Winslow Way work may be 'paused'

Despite objections from the arts community, the city is on the verge of “pausing” the rebuild of Winslow Way by a year or more to integrate input from the downtown business owners and to help balance a tight budget.

A final hurdle was overcome Monday when Public Works Director Randy Witt was told the state would permit the $300,000 in grant money for the project to be spent in 2005 or 2006 rather than next summer.

The delay will give downtown property owners an opportunity to complete their planning effort, then bring in comment from other groups and the public at large, and integrate those plans into a final design for the street.

“There is a lot going on down there,” Witt said. “We are proposing to pause the work between the highway and Ericksen and let the rest catch up.”

The city had planned to rebuild the Ericksen-to-305 portion of Winslow Way next summer at a cost of some $1.5 million. But concerns about aspects of that proposal, as well as the existing Winslow Master Plan, prompted the downtown property owners to initiate their own planning effort.

It’s not an attempt to redo existing plans so much as to refine them, Witt said.

“The Winslow Master Plan as it exists is ambiguous, and implementing it horrendously difficult,” he said. “There is physically not enough room for everything called for in the plan in terms of sidewalks, bike lanes and street width.”

The owners have formed an association and retained architect Bill Isley. They intend to finish their work by the end of the year.

Witt asked the council’s public works committee Monday to approve $80,000 for consultants to develop a traffic model, to aid in the planning work, and to work with a citizen steering committee to mesh input from the public and the business community.

While the traffic study was approved, the steering committee was not.

“Is this our number one priority?” Councilwoman Deborah Vann asked, saying she would not approve the funding until the Head of the Bay cleanup is complete.

“Yes it is,” said committee chair Norm Wooldridge. “Winslow Way needs to be redone.”

Concerns about deteriorating subsurface infrastructure – principally leaking drainpipes that could undermine the street – have prompted plans to rebuild the entire street from the highway to Madison Avenue.

The easterly segment – from Ericksen to the highway – was scheduled to be done next summer, and the Ericksen-Madison segment in 2005 or 2006.

The pause may open up additional options, Witt said, such as doing the entire street at once to shorten the period of disruption, which some merchants fear will devastate their businesses.

It may also allow including additional elements, such as a long-discussed parking garage.

A one-year delay would also save the city almost $1 million in 2004, according to figures from finance director Ralph Eells.

The city’s outlay was projected to be $1.2 million in addition to the state grant. Some $250,000 of that was for planning and engineering, Eells said, which remains in the budget.

The Public Works Committee has approved the delay, but the plan has not yet gone before the full council.

Objections have centered around the “Gateway” project, in which artists Maggie Smith and Buster Simpson were commissioned to design an aesthetically inviting entryway into downtown from the ferry terminal.

“The conflict arises only from the group of downtown property owners who have approached the council for support in their attempts to develop a plan for Winslow,” arts advocate Debbie Lester wrote in an email to the council.

“A group that surfaces after-the-fact of a design process nearing design completion should not be empowered with the right to derail plans.”

Lester and her husband, Ryan Vancil, had previously asked the council not to support the business owners’ design efforts unless other elements of the community were included from the beginning of that planning.

“It is essential that public input begin with the design process rather than react to it after it is completed by a group with a legitimate but limited vision,” Lester wrote.

The delay in the rebuilding schedule will go before the full council at its Oct. 8 regular meeting.

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Winslow’s property owners have formally joined together as the Winslow Way Property Owners Association, whose immediate objective will be developing a plan for the downtown area, which will then be subject to public input and discussion.

The group’s chair is Larry Nakata of Town and Country Markets, who initiated the effort with ad-hoc meetings last summer. Other trustees are Dr. Tom Haggar of the Virginia Mason clinic; Rex Townsend of American Marine Bank; Steve Seyl, who owns the property where Bistro Pleasant Beach is located; Marco Magnano, whose family owns The Winslow and other downtown properties; Marti Lawrence-Grant of That’s A Some Pizza; and Linda Brandt, who owns much of the property on Madrone Lane.

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