Terminal permits rejected

Steve McNabb, pile buck for General Construction Company, works on ferry terminal improvements. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Steve McNabb, pile buck for General Construction Company, works on ferry terminal improvements.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

WSF must come back with a new plan, a city examiner finds.

The city hearing examiner this week tossed out the city’s approval of Winslow ferry terminal upgrades, providing a ray of hope for advocates of a public trail there.

“It’s all we could have asked for,” said John Grinter, who joined members of the Waterfront Trail Association in appealing city Planning Director Larry Frazier’s approval of a state ferry system permit application that limited pedestrian access.

“Now we have a good opportunity for the city and Washington State Ferries to collaborate on what’s best for everybody and is hopefully better than what’s been proposed,” he said.

The permit, approved last year, would have allowed WSF to remove a pedestrian link from its terminal improvements.

Led by longtime waterfront trail advocate Charles Schmid, the appellants contended that a trail link is necessary for pedestrian safety and would serve as an important amenity for waterfront businesses and park users.

Their vision of the trail would carry walkers and cyclists to and from the ferry on the terminal’s southwest side. A link to Waterfront Park would help commuters avoid the sometimes dicey mix of pedestrians, cyclists and automobile drivers bottlenecked on Olympic Drive.

WSF officials say such plans are either unsafe or too early to consider as the terminal undergoes a $160 million upgrade over the next 11 years. Ferry officials also said additional terminal access points may compromise “homeland measures.

But the trails group aims to hold WSF accountable to a 1999 city decision mandating that the bike lane and footpath be included in the initial stages of terminal upgrades.

In a decision last year, Frazier allowed WSF to nix the pedestrian link in its shoreline development permit, but held firm on requirements for the bike path.

Frazier’s decision was unpopular on both fronts. WSF appealed the requirement of a bike lane, while the trails group appealed deletion of the walking path requirement.

While not directing the city to include a trail connection in future negotiations, hearing examiner Meredith Getches this week issued a “reprimand to the director to ‘reset’ the review process to a point prior to the occurrence of critical errors” in the permit approval process.

Key among these errors, Getches said in her findings, was the city’s failure to submit the application for review by the state Department of Ecology.

Frazier could not be reached for comment, but the lead planner on the project, Josh Machen, said the city indeed “did not send the final document to Ecology” during the planning department’s review of WSF’s application.

Machen said the oversight was due to the city’s expectation that WSF would apply for an amendment to the permit application.

Ken DeWitt, also a part of the trail advocates’ appeal, said he understands the city’s mistake within the context of a permit application and appeal process that’s lasted for over 10 years.

“It’s probably due to a lack of historical perspective,” DeWitt said. “There’s been a lot of staff changes with the ferry system and at the city. Things fall through the cracks.”

DeWitt and others hope the examiner’s directive for the city to step back and redo parts of the permit approval process will allow a window for more public comment on the issue.

“The planning director did not allow enough and we feel there wasn’t an adequate public process,” he said.

Harbour Public House owner Jeff Waite, who also appealed the city’s decision to let WSF proceed without building a trail link, was less sympathetic toward the planning department.

“The city completely lost all consistency,” he said. “Our big beef is with the process – with Larry (Frazier) making decisions alone on this. Larry overstepped his ability when he made his administrative decision on the project. If anybody else tried that, they’d get laughed out of City Hall.”

Waite and the other appellants hope the examiner’s decision will put the city “on notice” that WSF’s expected reapplication should include greater regard for residents’ interests.

While noting she has no authority to tell WSF what to do next, Getches advised ferry officials that their “best next step” would include completion of its terminal master plan before submitting a revised application.

This new application, Getches said, should include walkways, bicycle lanes and facilities for the disabled.

She also advised WSF to “address what can be done with regard to shoreline access.”

Ferry officials declined to comment on the examiner’s decision until their legal experts review the findings. The examiner’s decision does not affect WSF’s initial phase of dock improvements, which are covered under a seperate permit.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy also opted not to comment on the matter until she and city staff completed a review of the decision.

Appellant and bicyclist Bart Berg expects the city and WSF will now consider a wider perspective, including the Winslow Tomorrow planning project and the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which support additional non-motorized links and access to the downtown waterfront.

“This drives me nuts – just nuts!” Berg said, reflecting on more than a decade of fighting for the trail connection. “It’s just not in (WSF’s) purview. A bike path is clearly safer. And all the consultants with Winslow Tomorrow are calling for it. They say a spider-web network (will improve) how we move around Winslow.

“It’s critical now that the city hold the state ferries accountable.”

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