Winslow planning finds new direction

A downtown czar and ‘Community Congress’ will lead the year-long effort.

Tomorrow began this week.

To a chorus of approval from citizens and elected officials, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy on Wednesday unveiled a year-long, citizen-based process to bring parking, circulation, pedestrian and utility improvements to downtown – an effort dubbed “Winslow Tomorrow.”

“We believe at the end of the process, people will understand why we’re doing this, how much it’s going to cost, and what will be achieved,” said Kordonowy, in a workshop that drew two dozen citizens to the council chambers at City Hall.

The mayor’s initiative picks up where Winslow Way property owners left off in January. Their ambitious proposals, including new parking garages, roundabouts and pedestrian treatments, were envisioned to keep the downtown core attractive to shoppers, while keeping anchor businesses like Town & Country Market and the Virginia Mason Winslow Clinic in place.

To evaluate those proposals and generate new thinking still, Kordonowy had earlier proposed hiring an engineering and planning firm as a consultant. But that idea was waylaid, as citizens and council members called for a more grassroots process.

The administration responded Tuesday with a detailed proposal that includes both staff and citizen support.

The downtown vision now will be crafted by a new “Community Congress,” in which 75 or more islanders will have direct participatory roles. Their work will play out in ongoing meetings and workshops, with many opportunities for public input and council review over the next year.

Five workgroups will tackle specific issues – traffic, pedestrian and bicycling access, parking, the downtown “character,” and business implications – while a sixth group on a parallel track will tackle cost and financing issues.

“We see the people on these workgroups being from all over the island, with all kinds of experiences and all kinds of points of view,” Kordonowy said.

The process will be guided by a downtown planning coordinator, to be hired by the city for one to two years. The full-time job will require “someone with expertise in development, planning, urban development, graphics, consensus-building, facilitation,” the mayor said.

At the end of the effort, the City Council will be called upon to decide the final vision, selecting what the mayor called “the kind of quality downtown core we’re looking for.” An urban planning professional then would develop an implementation plan -- drawings and renderings to be put into effect through road, pedestrian, parking and utility improvements.

Council members were quick to endorse the mayor’s proposal, as did several citizens who had been critical of the earlier call for a consultant.

“You’ve absolutely taken this to new levels of detail to get the community involved,” said Ryan Vancil, a Winslow attorney.

The council agreed in principle to funding the new staff position, for which the city will advertise soon.

“We want someone who’s visionary,” public works Director Randy Witt said, “and the person has to be an optimist.”

The city also will advertise to find volunteers for the Citizen Congress; applicants will be screened and assigned to workgroups by their area of interest.

Kordonowy credited Councilman Nezam Tooloee for helping the administration reimagine the planning effort from the aborted attempt earlier in the year.

“He’s done a wonderful job shaping what you’ll see,” she said. Also involved were local architects Peter O’Connor, Charlie Wenzlau and Sean Parker.

Kordonowy also lauded the downtown property owners for getting the planning effort under way last summer. The first round of planning was completed with $75,000 in seed money put up by the merchants themselves.

“The city could never have been as effective and efficient at accomplishing the planning they did, in the time frame they did, with the money they did,” the mayor said.

Representing the downtown property owners, Tom Haggar of Winslow Clinic agreed.

“We were hoping to spark some sort of flame,” he said, “and I think you dumped a whole bundle of kindling on the flame tonight.”

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