Mayor reaches out to opponents and proponents
The corner of Chenega and Fairbanks Streets in Valdez will not be closed to motorized traffic to make way for a town plaza – that is one firm promise made by Mayor Dave Cobb last Thursday night during a contentious town hall meeting on proposed beautification efforts.
Cobb said the city had heard area business and property owners loud and clear.
“I think you can create the atmosphere of a town plaza without an actual plaza,” he said in an interview after the town hall meeting.
A large number of citizens filled the Valdez City Council Chambers to voice varying opinions on conceptual plans the Mayor’s Beautification Task Force, which hopes will improve the town’s visual appeal for locals and tourists.
The conceptual design plans were first made public July 2, at a regular meeting of the Valdez City Council. The draft plans immediately drew fire from business and property owners on Chenega and Fairbanks Streets who complained to the council that the town plaza concept would have a negative impact on their business interests.
Other portions of the plans, presented to the Valdez City Council in early July by John Rowe and Pat Coleman from Design Alaska, Engineers and Architects (DAEA), were criticized by members of the public, many pointed out perceived flaws that could impede snow removal in winter or past experience had proved impractical with Valdez winter weather conditions.
The conceptual plans, which were vetted by the task force over the course of several months, were designed to capitalize on the town’s voluminous snowfall, incorporate natural rock into signage around town and create attractions such as a welcoming gateway into town. It also features an extensive revamp of Egan St, and includes planting trees in the right-of-way, erecting public art and narrowing the street to accommodate both the improvements and making room for much needed winter snow storage.
City officials put its $96,000 contract with DAEA on hold until more public outreach was completed.
A large portion of the criticism from Pat and Peggy Day who expressed concern over the makeup of the task force, which they claimed was heavily weighted with city employees. For his part, Cobb complained the city advertised heavily in an effort to attract task force members, and all applicants to the committee had been accepted without exception.
“We got people who said they want to be on the committee,” Cobb said.
Cobb also invited critics to suggest alternatives to the portions of the draft plan they disliked and also encouraged fans and skeptics of the draft plan to join the task force. Cobb said doing nothing is not an alternative to the beautification plan, though some critics feel it is unfair to tax payers to create decorative infrastructure which the public must pay to maintain.
While the plans drew plenty of vocal criticism, a large portion of attendees at last week’s town hall meeting supported the plan.
“We will have another meeting of the committee, or task force, and talk about the next steps forward,” Cobb said. “We’ll have slow step forward, we won’t jump into anything.”
Others attendees suggested beautification could be achieved by better enforcing city codes that prohibit eyesores.
Complaints regarding dog poop rendering the existing park strip unusable to a lack of speed limit signs encouraging speeding on main streets were some of the examples of lack of enforcement that could improve the existing infrastructure.
The draft plans are available for viewing on the city’s website.