Northwest NEWS

October 28, 2002

Local News

Woodinville sketches cityscape of tomorrow - Community offers feedback on design

cityscape.jpg Seventy-five citizens attended a Downtown-Little Bear Creek open house on Oct. 16. Photo by Ian Gleadle
     by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Woodinville is a young city, a whippersnapper, really.
   It bears few of the trappings of truly great cities. It has no plazas or squares, no towers or gates, no porticos, no fountains, no museums. Church bells don't peal, clock towers don't chime, buskers don't strum on street corners. Nor do people gather downtown in the evening to catch a play, to meet friends, to stroll or to window shop.
   As it is, Woodinville is not particularly pedestrian friendly, as memorable cities are.
   But, again, this is because our city is young, 9-1/2 years old.
   It takes time to build a great city, time and a plan.
   The City of Woodinville has been working hard on such a plan for the past year. City staff, the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission, a consultant firm (Crandall Arambula), businesses, property owners and community groups have been drawn into the process.
   The result is what the city calls "a working draft" of its Downtown - Little Bear Creek Corridor Master Plan. They're calling it their vision, a way to guide the future of Woodinville.
   "We have a draft," said City Planner Carl Smith to some 75 citizens who attended a Downtown - Little Bear Creek Open House on Oct. 16, "certainly not a final document."
   Smith explained that plan crafters were anxious for citizen input, for suggestions, for feedback.
   Senior Planner for the City of Woodinville Becky Perkins explained in a phone interview after the Open House that the Planning Commission may alter the plan before it is presented to the public again at a public hearing to be held sometime in December.
   "I anticipate that the Planning Commission, as it formulates its recommendation, will go through the whole plan and deliberate further," said Perkins. "In all likelihood, they will make changes based on public comment."
   The Draft Plan
   As presented to citizens on Oct. 16, the draft plan had three components: circulation / roads; parks, open space and trails; and land uses. The plan didn't provide flourishes like space needles or arches or bigger-than-life statuary. That stuff comes in time. But what it did provide was infrastructure enhancements; greenways for recreation; foot and bike trails around the city; greater housing, retail and office densities downtown, and an office park along the Little Bear Creek corridor.
   Planners have identified about 10 road improvements deemed essential to the downtown - Little Bear Creek areas. They believe these road projects, two of which are already in progress, will improve traffic congestion and increase the city's ability to absorb new development, both downtown and along the creek corridor.
   Some of the road improvements include new grid streets; others include intersection improvements to open traffic bottlenecks.
   In addition, a new railroad crossing is proposed, as is a small train station for passenger service.
   "Right now Woodinville has a definite deficit in open space," said Parks Director Lane Youngblood.
   Youngblood believes the parks portion of the "vision" would create a more livable community.
   An interesting feature of the plan is a 124-foot-wide, blocks-long park, an expanse of lawn, possibly tree-lined, that would connect City Hall to the proposed extension of Garden Way.
   "It would be a strip of green for jogging or walking or congregating," said Elizabeth Chamberlain, planning intern for the city, "an amenity for the retail and housing planned for (north and south of the so-called 'central park blocks')."
   New, too, would be a creek side park in the Little Bear Creek corridor. A soft trail would follow the creek; hard trails would lie outside the sensitive stream areas. Tennis courts, a basketball court, picnic amenities and an area for lawn games would be located outside the stream buffer. A wetland education area with interpretive signage to highlight wildlife and vegetation would also be a part of the park.
   Pedestrian / bike overpasses (and an underpass), as part of a citywide trail loop, will allow access to all parts of downtown and the Little Bear Creek area by foot or bicycle.
   To keep downtown vibrant, diverse and pedestrian friendly, the draft plan suggests mixing small retail shops or offices with housing for a variety of income levels. Such mixed-use neighborhoods, with shops at street level, apartments or condos atop, would be primarily south of 175th Street. Buildings of up to five stories would be allowed.
   Planners envision an office parkway with a five-story building limit along the Little Bear Creek corridor. A general business zone to the north of the office park will remain. This office / business campus will offer proximity to the freeway, trails, parks and shopping.
   Public Comments
   Community members present at the Oct. 16 Open House had plenty to say about the plan.
   Debbie Spiller said one of the proposed pedestrian / bike overpasses ended in front of her house.
   "Our neighborhood has had three cars vandalized recently," said Spiller. "We don't want anymore (foot) traffic in our neighborhood."
   Steve Pugh considers the circulation from SR 522 past Dairy Queen to the Texaco gas station a problem.
   "I don't see anything in the plan," said Pugh, "to fix that."
   Karen Hergert thought the city had to make some real choices. She wondered how well the city could support an office-based economy, a light-industrial economy and a retail-based economy.
   "How well can we do all three?" asked Hergert.
   She also figures the city is creating density before it is solving its traffic bottlenecks.
   And "do we need all these parks at the expense of small businesses?" she asked.
   John Logan said of the proposed trail underpass, "Just don't do it. It would be a gross inconvenience."
   Logan also said he learned from a Department of Ecology employee that the 100-foot buffer proposed along the Little Bear Creek could be much less than that.
   Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Woodinville Residents, Len McNally posed a series of questions he felt unanswered by the draft plan. Here are a few.
   "How many more people will be living and working in downtown Woodinville with this plan?
   "How many more cars will these people add to the traffic on 175th?
   "How much will resident taxes increase to pay for roads, parks, city staff, police, fire, etc. this plan envisions and demands?
   "What will the impact be on sewer, water and utility rates as a result of the population influx called for by the plan ...?
   "How many more portable classrooms will be required at local schools to accommodate the additional school-age population?
   "How will the new retail succeed if customers can't reach the stores? Traffic is already the number one reason shoppers avoid Woodinville.
   "The plan talks about 'revitalizing' Woodinville. Is Woodinville hurting? Are businesses hurting? It appears that business is thriving in Woodinville, even in the current economic condition. Why do we need to rush into a plan like this - a plan that will take out a whole lot of smaller, but thriving, businesses? asked McNally.
   Terry Jarvis liked what he saw of the plan.
   "It was clear a lot of thought went into the plan," he said. "This is our ultimate build-out. This is the way Woodinville will look in the next 50 to 100 years. We have to look a little further, ... stretch a little bit (to appreciate it).
   "Now we have the opportunity to attract businesses to enhance the tax base to pay for this," said Jarvis.
   Higher building heights did not bother Jarvis.
   "High buildings won't happen overnight. They may not happen in five years, perhaps in 10 years. And they won't happen in every case. ... Just because a high building is allowable, it doesn't mean they will happen in every single case. I imagine a salt and pepper effect (with heights being) predicated by water table (restrictions) and owners' resources," said Jarvis.
   He encouraged others to look upon the project more optimistically.
   Brent Turley said, "Land uses drive the transportation plan and need to be handled together." He didn't believe that they were.
   Turley said he moved here because Woodinville was a cozy place. He finds nothing cozy about 55-foot buildings, he said.
   Turley also referred to the mixed-use development in downtown Redmond. That area has lots of available retail/office space, he said.
   Barbara Nelson said the city's downtown core has very little building space left, which necessitates building upward. To waylay fears that Woodinville would become a mini-Bellevue, she said building height changes would not occur overnight. Land would be developed on a per-parcel basis.
   "This is not a bad plan," said Nelson. "It is a good plan."
   Dennis Foster loves the character of this area.
   "I love to escape to Woodinville," said Foster. "It is the right size for my tastes, with business people I know by name. Woodinville is a destination I love to come to, but it sounds like we're trying to become other communities. I don't see them as destinations, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue," he said.
   "I don't pooh-pooh progress, said Foster. "It's just that a lot of elements of the plan will remove the character of what makes Woodinville what it is today."
   Maria Morris wondered if city planners knew the baseline air quality in Woodinville and what increased traffic might do to that baseline.
   Morris also asked if the city was prepared for the liability high density zoning along a high seismic zone such as Little Bear Creek might bring.
   A gentleman by the name of John said he was pleased by the plan. "I remember when Woodinville was a wide spot in the road between Bothell and Duvall," he said. "What drives this plan economically are the high rise buildings. I recommend the plan be approved."
   Lillie Clinton wasn't sure about the "walking city" concept. "How many people will actually give up their cars to walk?" asked Clinton.
   She also asked how the city planned to keep the sidewalks smooth and even. Sidewalks have a funny way of popping out of place overnight, she said.
   Peter Tountas thought the plan was basically sound, but it goes too far. He is opposed to the building heights, worries about the traffic and wonders if he'll get any benefits from the plan.
   "It's just too much," said Tountas. "Just temper it a little and we've got a great plan."
   Dick Spady wanted to see a downtown area that had more people living in it so that it wasn't such a deserted place. He felt increased density downtown would make for a warmer, more human, and certainly safer community.
   Improvements needed for Downtown - Little Bear Creek Master Plan
   Garden Way extension
   NE 173rd Street extension
   132nd Avenue Railroad Crossing
   State Route 522 Interchange (diamond completion)
   Mill Place and Little Bear Creek Parkway intersection improvements south of NE 190th Street (in progress)
   Little Bear Creek Parkway Improvements (in progress)
   Woodinville-Snohomish Road improvements north of NE 190th Street
   135th / 133rd Avenue extension north of NE 175th Street
   NE 175th Street improvements
   Railway corridor treatment
   Parks, Open Space and Trails
   Central park blocks
   Green loop pedestrian / bicycle trails
   Little Bear Creek park property improvements and associated parking lot
   State Route 522 pedestrian overpass
   140th Avenue NE / Woodinville-Snohomish Road / Little Bear Creek Parkway pedestrian overpass
   131st Avenue NE pedestrian underpass
   Land Use and Other
   Public parking structure
   132nd Avenue NE train station
   Gateway treatments including signage