by Frederica Merrell
Now we come to some interesting questions. How do we approve or “validate” our North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan recommendations before they are submitted to the City Council in November/December? Of course no one has any idea what exactly will be proposed by Department of Planning and Land Use (DPD) in September. But whatever comes out of the amazing brainstorming that has been going on, be it rerouting car traffic off Beacon Avenue onto 15th to create a bus, bike, pedestrian campus, or increasing zoning heights to 65′, or creating public benefit “baskets” for the key development properties (El Centro, Red Apple, Sound Transit block), or starting a temporary community garden on the empty land around the station, the ideas are all big, bold and exciting.
As a community with a number of different interest groups. we have to vote, or something, to say neah or yeah. And, we have to hope that DPD can correctly interpret our input in the short time between September and November 20 when the proposal must be submitted to Council (unless they give us more time). Who should get to vote, approve or validate our plan? I assume it will be residents and business owners of North Beacon Hill. How will DPD figure out who is validating? Will it just be community or will they inadvertently or intentionally also include developers, or people who don’t live here? Another question that has arisen for me is: how do the small business owners on Beacon Avenue get a fair say?
The last three days I have walked the Beacon Avenue and 15th business district in the station area overlay boundaries to do outreach with business owners. I walked from the intersection near Frank’s Auto shop at 14th, beyond the station area boundary at Winthrop, and through the Horton street business district down to Denise Louie Education Center where I stopped. I criss-crossed the street, lapped back to catch people who were out, sat waiting to chat and then hung around getting to know folks that mostly I never really met before.
I love our local business owners. They are smart, interesting, articulate and cool. About three people struggled with their English, but still voiced ideas. A number of owners have been here for decades and some of them are second generation. There are a bunch of hip young entrepreneurs (all relative, I’m 50) as well as middle-aged professionals. It seems like many, many businesses are family run, indicating that the survival and success of what they are doing has a big impact.
The people I talked to are concerned about being left out of planning meetings. They think about customer access, and parking, and they are hopeful that the new RPZ will benefit them by eliminating “hide and rides” and opening up spaces for their clientele. They don’t want parking meters. They were shocked that they hadn’t heard about some of the concepts being discussed for street changes. A lot of people had a positive reaction to pedestrian friendly spaces and they all want to have opportunity for input and were grateful that I came by on my walk.
I asked them to sign my petition asking for more time to refine our potentially big, bold, neighborhood plan “update” before sending a proposal to the City. The small business owners all want more time, and I gave their 40 or so signatures to Councilmember Sally Clark. Only three of the over 40 people I contacted had attended either of the two neighborhood plan meetings held so far. All of the people who didn’t know about the neighborhood plan update, and one person who did go to a meeting, indicated that they had not received notification at their businesses of those meetings. Don’t ask me what went wrong with DPD outreach, but folks were a little peeved. Some blamed the community Council (I told them the North Beacon Hill Council isn’t in charge), some thought the City doesn’t want them to know what is going on. I promised to make sure that DPD send them notices of the final meeting in September, but they probably won’t get much chance to bring new proposals to the table.
All the very cool ideas that have been put together so far have been submitted by residents. I wonder what proposals the small business owners would come up with given a little more time? If small business owners were actively engaged, we could have a rockin’ stewardship group to make sure our ideas become real. If the people who work on Beacon Avenue every day aren’t interested or supportive of the update, we might have a real problem ever getting anything implemented.
Stewardship of our plan and validation go hand in hand. People who get to refine the big ideas and see their own proposals in the update will be more supportive of getting things built. It isn’t enough to only get ideas from residents. We need the other three groups: small business owners’ input, original ideas, and approval along with proposals from key property owners: El Centro (now ably run by new Executive director Estella Ortega) and the Lee and Tucci families who own the area around the train station. If we have time to talk and refine the proposals together, we build the precious relationships needed among all four groups. From these relationships a stewardship model could be created. Maybe we can even revive the moribund Beacon Chamber of Commerce. I think that is what has to happen to secure funding to rebuild Beacon Avenue, run a Farm and Flea Market, create gardens, and more. I continue to voice support for more time to build the big. bold, update proposal with the four interest groups identifiably working together.
I look forward to seeing everyone, including our small business owners, at the September meeting where DPD will unveil the proposals for our big, bold, exciting, North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan update. Wahoo! All aboard!
About the Neighborhood Planning Ad Hoc Committee of the North Beacon Hill Council:
Our work is mostly about process, not about proposals. The main goal is to make sure the City outreach and planning process works for our community and to follow-up with a community-run process that includes more of the issues and areas that the City won’t address (like stuff outside the station area overlay and issues that they don’t really have time for) using a DON grant.
We have been meeting at the Jefferson Park Community Center 7:00-9:00 pm on alternating Tuesday and Thursday evenings, about every two weeks. The next meeting is Thursday, July 23. We will focus on our Department of Neighborhoods grant application (deadline August 31) and follow-up on the train of discussions about the City timeline and products.
After that, the dates are:
Tuesday, August 4
Thursday, August 20
Tuesday, September 1
Thursday, September 17
Thursday, September 24
Thursday, October 8
Thursday, October 15
Contact Frederica Merrell, Organizing Volunteer, firstname.lastname@example.org.