By Frederica Merrell,
North Beacon Hill Planning Advisory Committee
If you go to the City planning website and look at the draft Neighborhood Plan update recommendations, what do you see? There is a document on goals and strategies, some high tech drawings of various zoning options and a cross-section of a possible street improvement design. What does all this stuff mean and does it include everything folks on the hill have talked about? What should we tell DPD when we go to their input meeting on Sunday (or Wednesday night) down at the Asian Counseling and Referral building?
Those were the questions the North Beacon Hill Planning Advisory committee tried to answer Thursday night. We looked at the drawings and carefully read the Draft Goals and Strategies. We talked about the street design. Here is what we concluded in the very short period of time we have before the meeting this weekend:
There are a lot of things missing that were discussed several times in our big meetings with DPD in May and March. The document is pretty scanty, considering how much has been talked about. We are worried that all the good ideas aren’t going to get captured, organized, and analyzed. Please go look for yourself and see if you think it is complete.
In spite of the fact that public safety was mentioned numerous times in meetings, there is no public safety component. Specific strategies for improving safety that have been voiced are:
Extend the Alcohol Impact Area to Beacon Hill (bans sale of cheap high-alcohol content beverages), add Parks Rangers to Beacon Hill playground/park near Beacon Hill Elementary School and Jefferson Park (the Parks Superintendent supports this recommendation and has stated so in meetings), and support legislation from Councilmember Burgess to ban aggressive panhandling, specifically at: grocery stores, gas stations, and near schools, and at arterial intersections.
There are some good strategies in this section. One thing we noticed is that other plans are referenced but no detail is provided on what parts of these plans. We felt that if our document is to be useful, the specific strategies from the SE Transportation Plan, the Pedestrian Master Plan, and the Bike Master Plan need to be spelled out in our neighborhood plan. Otherwise, it makes it difficult to use our plan as a basis for accountability. Also, when you add these plans together in our community, does it make sense or are there areas that need further clarification? Is there any conflict or competition between these plans when they are placed on specific streets on Beacon Hill? Greater specificity is needed here.
In the cross section diagram of the streetscape design, we think there are not enough options. We suspect this is just a standard cross-section study, not designed for Beacon Avenue specifically. We want to see consideration of the same median design proposed for Beacon Town Center (currently used through Jefferson Park) as well as other creative ideas that possibly widen sidewalks on at least one side of the street to accommodate café and street life. We weren’t sure, but it looked like this design leaves sidewalks just as they are.
We also felt there needed to be added recommendations:
- Update signalization where sunlight makes it hard to see green and red lights.
- Include more traffic calming strategies.
Parks and Open Space:
We didn’t see an explicit recommendation of a Farmer’s Market on the festival street. This needs to be added because a lot of people want this in the future.
The pictures are pretty, but they sort of all look the same. Even the “tower” in the distance on the 125′ option is not very descriptive. Where is that thing?
We concluded that the community still does not have enough information on the pluses and negatives of the various development scenarios. We noted that DPD has not used any economic analysis to determine how much retail and housing could be supported on Beacon Hill and whether the square footage cost of new construction would increase rents for small business owners. Would these scenarios help or endanger the diverse small business community? It seems really unclear what would thrive and what would dive.
Committee members still have questions about how recommendations in our plan on zoning codes and development recommendations will be used in the future. Do we lose all choice about what happens if we come to some conclusion based on what looks good? This seems scary. We also noted that we do not have any information on updated growth targets for our community upon which to base development choices. We also noted that the City Office of Economic Development (OED) has had no involvement in planning recommendations for North Beacon Hill though they have been involved in helping Othello neighborhood. Bummer.
The neighbors on Stevens, west of Beacon Ave. are in pretty tense discussions with City Light over the tall power poles put in on that street. I know that they sent DPD some recommendations for the plan related to this issue. None of that is in there.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The North Beacon Hill Planning Advisory Committee volunteers will have one more meeting after the DPD meetings this weekend to put together a report on the process. Here are some of the ideas that are coming out.
- DPD has been working on a very short timeline with a small budget that has compromised the quality of the update, but some good material has been collected. We don’t want to have to work with this same short timeline to create a better update. We think our community should take more time to do a more complete update at a later date and use the results of DPDs work to do it.
- We don’t have funding or volunteer capacity to work on a short timeline, so we don’t want to try and cram additional update work in on the DPD timeline.
- We don’t want to negotiate our recommendations with DPD staff; we want to do a separate process that allows for better outreach, an expansion of the geographic areas we address, and complete inclusion of all the creative ideas. This process will take more time and study, as we have been saying all along.
- We want more analytical information of an economic nature. We want information that will be forthcoming in the next year to use in our update. The Puget Sound Regional Council will have growth targets next year. The national census will be completed. The construction of Jefferson Park Phase I will be done, and we can see what that does to traffic on 15th.
- DPD’s process will be completed by December and will be whatever they decide. A neighborhood-directed process can be separate, more complete, detailed, and analytic, as well as using all the good information collected by DPD.
- We would recommend that the North Beacon Hill Council take a more hands-on role in the next year in conducting a planning process, including laying out a work plan, creating committees, and writing a grant to fund the process. We recommend four possible committees: Transportation, Business Development and Public Safety, Housing and Zoning, New Plan Areas. We would like to see the committees steward and monitor existing plan recommendations, study and analyze options, and prepare a portion of the plan update. The committees should come together as a whole to do outreach, and sponsor meetings for sharing and validating recommendations with the community. The timeframe should probably be at least two years so as not burn out the volunteers with meetings that are too frequent on a crunched timeline (like this year!)
- We want to encourage folks to do some fun organizing in the meantime, like getting that Festival Street activated, taking part in construction meetings for Jefferson Park, organizing a Beacon Ramble (AKA Beatwalk), doing karaoke at the Beacon Tavern, and other fun gathering activities that enliven our street and community.
See you on Sunday!