Opinions as colorful as the view on Sunset
There was no dearth of opinion last week when the City hosted a public meeting on the proposed Sunset Avenue Walkway Project.
More than 60 people attended the meeting at the public library to hear a brief presentation on the project, then break up into small groups to discuss it.
According to Public Works Director Phil Williams, the project has three goals: to maximize access to the views; to improve safety; and to provide accessibility, particularly to those who have limited mobility.
A dirt trail on the west side would be replaced with a finished 10-foot-wide sidewalk extended another 2,500 feet north where it would link to the City’s existing sidewalk system.
Those in opposition at the Wednesday meeting included some who simply like the current situation – the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp.
Other opponents included conspiracy theorists who went so far as to accuse City staff of cooking up the project to ensure their own job security.
But there were plenty of supporters as well.
Some Sunset Avenue residents liked the overall idea, but objected to some of the particulars.
One resident, for example, said there is one parking space in front of her house now; an artist’s rendition of the completed project showed three parking spaces in its place, which would adversely affect her view.
A resident who lives a block off Sunset and walks on the waterfront street regularly with his children was excited about the potential.
“It’s a great idea,” he said. “A continuous path all the way to Marina Beach Park? That’s awesome.”
A long-time Sunset resident said the potential to make the street more user-friendly was appealing to him.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about that street,” he said. “It’s everybody’s street.”
Currently, however, many of those visiting Sunset are ignoring common sense, and that has led to some accidents and many close calls.
While there’s a narrow sidewalk on the east side of Sunset, there’s only that dirt path – often muddy in winter – on part of the west side, and many pedestrians simply walk in the street itself.
Connie Reckord of the architectural planning firm MacLeod Reckord, which helped the City with the preliminary design work, said safety was high on their list of concerns.
“The bike lane gets a lot of use,” Reckord said. “Besides bicycles, there are skateboarders, walkers, strollers…
“There are a lot of safety issues out there.”
The project would create a multi-use promenade on the west side that could be shared by leisurely bike riders, walkers, people in wheelchairs or otherwise limited mobility, parents with babies in strollers, and others.
There also would be seating areas where visitors could take in the 180-degree views.
Planners would avoid including trees or tall shrubs, tall light standards or other view-blocking amenities.
About a dozen parking spaces would be lost, although there’s ample parking on nearby streets.
Among the hurdles is finding agreement with the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad; for 70 years, part of Sunset Avenue has actually been located on railroad property. Consequently, the redevelopment project would be undertaken on both public and private property.
Williams said they have been in negotiations with BNSF; currently railroad officials are willing to agree to a lease that would have to be renewed on an annual basis.
That raised alarms with at least one resident: Jerry Freeland said he has asked City officials, including the city attorney, how they can justify spending public funds on private property. He said at Wedneday’s meeting that he is still awaiting an answer.
Project Manager Ed Sibrel said he hoped to talk BNSF into something “a little more permanent.”
And, while the City was able to acquire $159,000 in federal funding for design work, there isn’t yet any money for actually building the project.
Despite what some conspiracy theorists believe, Williams said the project “isn’t a done deal.”
“The only money we have is to prepare a concept, listen to the public, and improve the design,” Williams said. “We don’t have money for the project.”
And, even if the project does get the green light and funding, some of the current problems won’t likely go away, such as people walking in the street or stopping their cars in the middle of the road and in front of driveways.
“When you have a beautiful summer evening,” Sibrel said, “and people get out of their cars to shoot that picture, game’s over.
“We can’t design for that.”
For a description of the project and an artist’s concept, go to http://www.edmondswa.gov/images/COE/Government/Departments/Public_Works/Public_Works_Projects/Sunset_Ave_Walkway/Sunset_Public_Mtg_Flyer.pdf