Lively chit-chat at Chamber function on city’s future

  • Written by Don Mann
Jeff Thomas, right, illuminated the Chamber event. On the dais, left to right: Will Bruce, Paulette Bauman, Tom Quigley, Carol Hook and Mike Stevens. Staff photo/Don Mann
If that sign thing ever goes south, Jeff Thomas has a definite future as a game show host.

The owner of Crossroad SIGN, who blogs on all things Woodinville business, emceed a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored panel discussion on what the city should look like eight years from now, and he worked the Redhook upstairs room on Thursday like he’d done it before.

It was called Vision 2020 and the panelists at the luncheon dais included some of Woodinville’s heavier hitters.

Among them were Will Bruce, owner of Windermere Real Estate; Paulette Bauman, Woodinville City Council member; Tom Quigley, arborist and chair of the Sammamish Valley Alliance; Carol Hook, owner of Portraits by Carol Hook and Mike Stevens, chair of Woodinville Wine Country and managing partner of Brian Carter Cellars.

King County Councilmember Jane Hague was also in attendance but did not speak.

The emcee began by explaining the idea was to put glasses on and look forward for a change, and added a pretty fair Yogi-ism: “If Woodinville as a community doesn’t know where we’re going, we’re gonna have hard time getting there.”

Stevens spoke first on vision and talked about maintaining Woodinville’s local, national and international reputation for the “quintessential” wine experience. “Our competition is not other wineries in Woodinville; it’s Napa and France and other parts of the world. We have to come together to create that basis for understanding what the Washington wine experience really means for people.”

He talked about establishing a city brand “that really means something.”

Hook spoke about her vision of more public art, citing the recent work in Duvall that decorates their streets. “We (in Woodinville) have done a great job so far but we can do a lot more.”

Duvall, she said, spent about five years working on its vision and planning.

“They involved the community a lot with open houses. They put art everywhere. It’s increased their foot traffic and retail sales, despite the recession. So it’s a positive thing to bring in art to get people walking around.”

Quigley talked about Woodinville’s natural beauty that attracts tourism. “We have bicycles and trails and hot air balloons and flowers and wine tours and vineyards,” he said. “It’s about fresh, it’s about outdoors, it’s about community.”

But it’s not about transportation and the city and business community have been inadequate in connecting the dots, he implied.

“Nowhere in our planning have we addressed transportation, shuttle buses. We now have one entrepreneur who has made it happen despite the fact that we really haven’t planned for it at all. We just built this beautiful new 21 Acres building but no provision for shuttle buses.

We need to do this, and it flabbergasted me it hasn’t happened yet. We need to grab that vision, take ownership of it and take action to have that happen.”

Bauman spoke less about vision and more about process. The councilwoman said she grew up here when downtown Woodinville was pastures and farmhouses, and has witnessed a tremendous amount of change. Looking ahead to 2020, she said trails and railway and, of course, the wineries were central to her vision. Eight years isn’t too far away, she added.

“I know one thing: the only way to accomplish great ideas and visions is to create a dialogue that is open and receptive to all opinions at the table,” she said. “The biggest detriment in the past has been division

between citizens and business, rural versus urban.”

There are many things to balance, she added, but said family and home come first.

“If we treat each other with the respect we want in our home and extend that to the community and start building something that is collaborative … we can have the best of both worlds. We can have our downtown and our beautiful ag (sic.) lands. The biggest thing is dialogue.”

Bruce, the self-proclaimed “real estate guy,” said his vision of 2020 was about living conditions.

He envisioned “a hub maybe around Canterbury” and likened it to his perception of Bronx, New York: “little barber shops on the corner, little delis, little places where you drop off your laundry and you can walk to things.” He spoke about “an aging-society” and “empty nesters up on the hill.”

The real estate guy lamented the demise of the Woodinville Wine Village project but maintained an optimism, recalling that “120 units went on the market and 80 percent of them sold in three days, priced between $400,000 and a million.

“That was a different economic time but demand doesn’t go away.

“The economic time went away; that’s why we have an empty field over there. Economics change, but not that demand.”

He said not all change was good, but some change can be very good.

“That’s kinda my vision: Smaller places to live, being able to walk to things, mixing commerce and residential properties in the same area.”

Thomas then grabbed the floor to remind the locals there’s no bad idea in the room and opened it up to questions.

To Stevens: What are the top three obstacles that prevent a thriving tourist district?

He said there were some geographic divisions that separated businesses in town. Transportation, parking — especially in the south end — and infrastructure were also issues.

To Quigley: Where exactly is the agriculture? It seems to be invisible, the inquisitor said.

The farm guy seemed to find the question curious, but took it in stride.

He said five family farms spread across 60 valley acres produce abundantly and sell at Pike Place Market every day, and local farmer’s markets on weekends.

He also said The Herbfarm, a nationally acclaimed restaurant, cultivates on about five acres in its backyard solely for its own menu.

To Bauman: What is the vision of the city council?

Said the councilwoman: “That’s the challenge. We’ve heard it for years that it’s a split council and it really attests to … I think a lot of people … maybe they’re still holding on to the past, in a way … and are afraid of moving forward and losing what is precious to them … and so the challenge is that there are people who are not quite sure how to get through the growing pains … out of fear, I think, of destroying what we all think is special … so there’s an indecision or there’s ‘let’s just not do anything at all.’”

She did not answer the question specifically, but perhaps she made her point.

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