Friday, May 23, 2014

What We Learned From You at Our First Public Workshop

On April 22nd, we held our first public workshop to about 80 people where our consultant team (Makers & SvR) led a short presentation on the planning and data gathering that's already occurred, the goals of our planning effort, and the existing conditions of the 35th Ave Business District.  After which, community members spent the rest of the meeting in 8 small groups working together to discuss land use, building types, and streetscape features along the business district.

The group exercises included marking up a map of the business district with comments on the business district and then reviewing photographs and ranking different building sizes, types, and designs as well as different streetscape design features.  After about 45 minutes of group time, each group presented a summary of the group exercises to the rest of the participants.  Comments, questions, and conversation grew out of these presentations while the consultants took notes.  Here's what we learned.

Click on the image for larger PDF of results.

Using these results and the data collected from the 35th Ave Survey Results, the consultant team will develop zoning and streetscape design alternatives for the 35th Ave Business District to present at the upcoming Public Workshop 2, on Wednesday, June 11th, 7-9PM, at Messiah Lutheran Church.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Life Along the Corridor" - Guest Post

The following post is a summary of the first public workshop posted on the Wedgwood Community Council's website and written by Valarie Bunn, lauded NE Seattle historian, who attended the public workshop.

The arterial 35th Ave NE is the main business and commercial corridor of the Ravenna, Bryant, View Ridge and Wedgwood neighborhoods, including the areas from NE 65th to 95th Streets. There are zoned “commercial areas” at the intersections of NE 65th, 70th, 75th, 85th and 95th Streets. For a pedestrian walking along the 35th Ave NE corridor, there are some places to eat and shop, and places to access businesses and services such as churches and the library. There are other stretches of the corridor which don’t have much to offer. Some of the commercial “nodes” are underdeveloped or have aging buildings which may be targeted for redevelopment. When trudging along 35th Ave NE as a pedestrian, how well-designed is the streetscape? Is it safe, convenient and functional? Are there clusters of businesses and services which are accessible on foot?

The Future of 35th Ave NE
The Future of 35th Ave NE project kicked off on April 22, 2014, with an introduction to land use, building character, and streetscape design.  Then community work groups gathered around tables to identify key issues. This project is grant-funded and is led by consultants from MAKERS Architecture and Urban Design, and SvR Design which includes landscape architects.  These same consultants worked with Wedgwoodians on the Vision Plan completed in 2010.  The current 35th Ave NE project builds upon the principles established in the Vision Plan. The evaluation questions of the current project include asking how the form and function of the pedestrian streetscape on 35th Ave NE will help create a safe and vibrant business district. What the 35th Ave NE project is not, is a “City” program which would address the roadway itself and traffic issues. What the project scope is intended to do, is create documentation for concerns for safe-crossing to businesses and services and the kinds of commercial options endorsed by neighborhood residents. With that documentation we can then interact with the City on issues of streetscape design, commercial zoning and the design of business buildings.

A More Vibrant Commercial District
In survey results which are posted on the project page, 92% of respondents wanted increased commercial services along the 35th Ave NE corridor. This may require some redevelopment in present “empty spaces” and in older, low-rise buildings. Businesses need to be clustered together for viability, rather than strung out in isolated spots. Pedestrian safety and comfort have direct impacts on local business districts. In a recent project in the University District, businesses enjoyed a 6.18% increase in sales within the first four years after the street improvements. Vacancies of commercial storefronts decreased there, and one business owner said that better street lighting had increased sales by creating a safe nighttime shopping experience for his store.

Getting Ahead of Development
We know that some businesses along 35th Ave NE are in old buildings, and the property owners are beginning to turn over control to the “next generation” of their family. We are likely to see some of the present buildings replaced by new ones. To have a say in what will be built, we must get ahead of the projects by providing a framework of what is wanted by neighborhood residents, supported by zoning regulations and needed improvements to streetscape.

One of the biggest “wake-up calls” in Wedgwood neighborhood history was the construction of what is now the Jasper Apartments at 8606 35th Ave NE, completed in 2012. By the time it was learned that a new four-story building was to go in, it was very difficult to have any input with the developers because they had already drawn up plans and applied for permits. It costs money for developers to do all the architectural plans and they resisted changes to the building requested by neighbors, because it would cost more money for re-drawing. One of the purposes of the present 35th Ave NE project is to document streetscape and building-type plans to be presented to and consistently requested from developers, so that future commercial buildings along 35th Ave NE would meet the needs of residents.

Join In, Let Your Voice be Heard
The Future of 35th Ave NE project has been endorsed by the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association and the Wedgwood Community Council. Anyone who lives in the area or uses the 35th Ave NE commercial corridor is invited to participate in the project. It’s not too late for you to join in on the process and let your voice be heard for improvements along the 35th Ave NE corridor. The next public workshop will be on Wednesday, June 11, from 7 to 9 PM at Messiah Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, 7050 35th Ave NE. This workshop will address streetscape design and zoning: effective tools to balance competing interests along the linear and fragmented business district of 35th Ave NE. We need your voice!