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Downtown developing slowly but positively
Rod Normandin, left, and Deborah Norman, co-owners of BrokersGroup, talk about the downtown plan with Mike Lippert, a citizens downtown plan advisory committee member.
by MATTHEW NASH
Positive ideas flowed freely for about 150 business owners and residents brainstorming Sequim's downtown.
The city of Sequim hosted open houses Nov. 4-5 to gather ideas for consultants on a preliminary downtown plan.
Joe Irvin, interim planning director, said the event was a big success and one of the most positive meetings he's witnessed in his tenure.
"Essentially what (consultants) created came from the public," Irvin said.
"The group graphically depicted some preliminary framework concepts that will address the larger plan. It's like a building block scenario and still very preliminary."
Irvin said key concepts were:
- Concentrating some growth in the core and spreading it around downtown districts and neighborhoods
- Taking into account natural features and public spaces
- Finding incubator-type businesses like research and development
- Find areas downtown that accommodate commercial use and are compatible with housing
Irvin said public suggestions covered many topics.
"A lot of suggestions for improvement ranged from as simple as, 'We need more bike racks and garbage cans' to some serious issues of blight in the city we want to have redeveloped," he said.
"That's OK, as the scope of this plan is set, we'll get more guidelines."
Mark Hinshaw, director of urban design for LMN Architects, said defining the downtown sector should be loose because downtowns are dynamic.
"They should have soft boundaries, with the core area based on walking one-fourth of a mile in 10-15 minutes, which is a reasonable distance."
Irvin said the whole idea of defining downtown in a physical sense is important.
"It gives tourists and people the feeling that they are downtown," Irvin said. "There's a lot of value in 'Welcome to downtown.'"
Consultants listened to hundreds of ideas and suggestions during the open houses that were categorized into different groupings and priorities.
Some public suggestions were:
- Address east to west traffic
- Improve certain intersections and signage
- Better align parking with demand
- Make Washington Street the main entrance from U.S. Highway 101
- Rethink Sequim Avenue and Washington Street intersection
Consultants found several possibilities for helping Sequim's downtown.
One design showed Bell Creek becoming a corridor, integrating cottage housing with possible mixed-use development and a walking trail.
They identified alleyways as having a lot of potential, as well.
Making the proposed city hall a civic center and Seal Street Park a town square are options.
Residents seemed largely in favor of keeping buildings lower than four stories, although Irvin said some participants were neutral or in favor of larger buildings. Hinshaw said going more than four stories creates an exponential cost increase for developers.
The idea of building underground was nixed, too.
"Cost for going underground is astronomical, and it's almost always a disaster," Hinshaw said.
Mayor Ken Hays said one of his expectations from consultants is to look at codes and see how the city council can make them easier to work with and compelling for developers to redevelop their own properties.
Hays said implementing a downtown plan has been a council goal since 1996. He's been observing the process and but hasn't participated due to possible perceived conflicts with his architecture company.
"I emphasized this is an important process and expensive," he said. "It's an investment; I expect return. We want some short-term goals and strategies that we can implement today and be excited and continue to believe in the planning process."
Hays also wants a meaningful long-range plan that encourages people to think of thoughtful, redevelopment of commercial development and neighborhoods.
"If we want Sequim to thrive, it has to have a heart and soul and that starts in the center of town," he said.
Irvin said most participants felt keeping Sequim a small, rural town is preferred.
"We're not doing this because the downtown is spiraling downward. It's because this is the time to build on the success and help it grow," Hays said.
"There are a lot of short-term achievable projects like putting in more benches and public art that make people feel comfortable. It's already a nice place to hang out and shop. We not only want tourists but people who already live here."
LMN Architects is meeting Dec. 6 with the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee on proposed concepts.
Another community workshop on refining the proposed downtown plan should take place in mid-January.
Irvin said the final proposal might go to the city council for approval by early spring.
For questions or comments on the proposed downtown plan, call Joe Irvin at 681-3439.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.