Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Election '09: A Downtown Streetscape Rebuttal

(Editor's Note: City Councilor Drew Gattine represents Ward 2 on the Westbrook City Council.)

I've read some recent postings on this Web site that refer to the City's proposed Downtown Streetscape Planning Study, and I'm particularly concerned about some of the characterizations of that plan by James Tranchemontagne.

In particular, I disagree with his assertion that the Downtown Streetscape Planning Study is the "new Urban Renewal," as well as his argument that the Downtown Streetscape Planning Study will put "over 400 cars a day" into Ward 4 neighborhoods.

Mr. Tranchemontagne is a candidate for the Ward 4 seat in the City Council, and I am sure that the discerning readers of this blog will read his comments in that context. However, I do want to take the opportunity to educate readers about the plan.

First of all, I would urge all Westbrook residents to read the Downtown Streetscape Planning Study. It reflects a tremendous amount of work and contains a wealth of information. Thirteen volunteer committee members (including a resident of Brown Street) worked with City Staff and consultants to develop the plan. The Village Review Overlay Zone Committee (which also includes a Brown Street resident) voted unanimously to support it. You may agree or disagree with some or all of the plan, but it is thought-provoking and at the very least should generate conversation and debate about how we can improve our city center. Downtown revitalization efforts need to remain a focal point of the city's economic development activities.

The City Council will be conducting a public hearing on this plan on November 2 in Room 114. It will be on the agenda of the regular City Council meeting beginning at 7 pm. As a City Councilor, I would welcome any and all public input. I am inclined to support the plan, but want to hear what the public has to say.

It is hard to imagine how anyone who has read the plan can fairly compare it to the urban renewal activities of the 1970s. In fact, the purpose of the Downtown Streetscape Planning Study is, in many respects, to correct the mistakes made during urban renewal. The purpose of the plan is (as stated):
  1. To promote a safe, beautiful, and economically sustainable downtown, through a well-designed streetscape which includes all components of the street, sidewalks, and building facades.
  2. To improve the pedestrian experience in the business core of downtown, while improving the ability of cars to circulate in, around, and through downtown.
  3. To promote the downtown as the heart of the community for residents and visitors.
  4. To provide guidance to residents, landowners, business owners and decision makers as to the preferred build-out of the streetscape in the downtown business core.
Finally, I am at a loss to explain the source of Mr. Tranchemontagne's assertion that the plan would put 400 additional cars into Ward 4 neighborhoods. As far as I know (based upon conversations I have had with City staff) there was no data or information collected during the development of this plan that would suggest that such an uptick in neighborhood traffic will occur. It is not intended to change traffic patterns, but to accommodate existing vehicular traffic and pedestrians. The plan certainly is not designed to divert traffic onto residential streets. If this is a legitimate concern, then by all means let's identify it, discuss it, and measure it. And if there is a problem, then let's fix it.

I am confident that all of the incumbent councilors, especially City Councilor Aube, would be troubled if there was evidence that implementation of the plan would meaningfully increase traffic in Ward 4.

- Drew Gattine

Related: Election '09: James Tranchemontagne on the Issues (October 27, 2009)
Election '09: Why I Am Running for the City Council (October 20, 2009)


James Tranchemontagne said...

In response to the post written by Councilor Drew Gattine. I would ask him for the same respect I have given this City. It is true, I am not a fan of the current draft of the streetscape but to make the assumption that it is purely a political move and my “comments should be taken in that context” is and insult to me and the healthy debate we are having as we look for the best way to continue economical development. How come my ideas were not political in my Monday, January 26, 2009 special feature on this blog? You had no objections then. They are the same concerns.

My concerns come from being a small business owner, in the heart of the downtown. I employ 18 people who depend on me. We are opening another place creating 6 new jobs. That will be 25 new jobs, with retirement benefits, to the downtown in two years. That is not political. It is very hard work and we donate to many organization in this city.

As a business owner, I spend a lot of my time looking at 3 issues:
1. How this City is treating all businesses.
2. Which new businesses are coming to this City
3. What is the City’s vision in 3, 5 and 10 years and how does that affect my business.

Councilor Gattine, if you are at a loss, with my ideas, as you have written, I urge you to follow other councilors lead and come meet me. I have had many conversations with the Mayor, Councilor Foley & O’Hara, Molly Just and Keith Luke. Even the other night I had a great discussion with President Rielly. We shared thoughts of how we can keep job creation growing in a tough market. We don’t always agree but have great respect for each others hard work. I am no different then anyone else who cares about this great city. Please don't attack me because I share a difference of opinion on one proposal. I just look for good honest debate with facts. All along, I've encourage citizens to read the plan and see for themselves how they feel.

Drew Gattine said...

Mr Tranchemontagne,

The primary reason for my post was to encourage people to read the plan, inform them about the meeting on Friday and encourage feedback to the City and its elected officials. If I incorrectly suggested that your recent posts and comments on this blog are motivated by your candidacy, I apologize. I read them on this blog in that context, but it doesn't really matter. As a citizen, taxpayer and small business owner you are entitled to have your opinions heard. Certainly no insult was intended. I still don't understand the basis of the specific concerns you've raised but will contact you to discuss.

skybox212 said...

I briefly looked over the draft myself and a couple of thought were provoked 1. If I understand it correctly it was done by volunteer committee members including a resident of Brown Street? 2.The committee voted unanimously to support it? 3. Being a small business owner my self I noticed Main Street Cafe was still in the plan and it appears Martin Lane has been sited for urban removal. 4. Does the city own the buildings that have been suggested to have 2 nd story constructed? They may the city has been in the real estate business for decades. I do however like the concept of putting up a structure along main street where what is referred to as the "blue note" stands. I thought I read someplace where it states this plan was not done by professional? RED FLAG! Community support is important but a commissioned inexperienced volunteer committee that votes on there own ideas seems a bit out of whack to me. Even if it will go to council after. The intent to provoke thought about our downtown is good.

James has mentioned a parking structure in the CVS parking lot. I too have envisioned one there for years. It's a blighted space, and to put a 2 level parking structure on the lot would solve any downtown parking problems. This structure should have elevated retail space above the parking structure with open green space to serve as a park on the roof of the structure. A major investment in a modern parking / retail / green space project in the down town would give the city center exactly what it is looking for.

My support does go out to the volunteer on the committee.

Allen Moore

Lynn M said...

Build the parking and business will come.... well at least that was the model L/A went with. I'm not sure how it all worked out for them, but I was under the impression it works.

James Tranchemontagne said...

Part 2. My concerns with the current streetscape plan.

1. Traffic: According to the diagrams (figs 20 -22) where we see raised tables, bump outs and mediums to create “traffic calming improvements” (sec 8.4). I’m worried it will create a bottleneck on Main St, in turn, pushing commuters to exit via Brown, East Bridge and Pierce St. In fact, the report implies this, by proposing the removal of the speed bumps near the mill.

I used 300 to 400 cars based on the amount of businesses at the mills and the size of the DRMS’ parking garage & employees. Also how will the many large 18-wheelers in the city be effected?

2.Pollution: With growth comes pollutions and trash. Pollution is mentioned once, in reference to light glare. Trash was mentioned 3 times, only in reference to street receptacle placement. We already have problems trying to shield receptacles out of site. Any major report should have a section dealing with commercial trash.

3.Implementation, sec 9, says, “to be complete”. The section shows some implementation strategies (page 15) but on page 2 still lists, “to be completed”. I was looking to see implementations in a time line with benchmarks.

4.Cost: There is very little costs that are projected. How will this project be bid, developed and time frame for completion? Are we, the citizens, doing this through a bond or increase taxes?

Funding is mentioned on page 15: The city looks toward grant money, CIP and the use of TIFs. Also, it recommends having landlords pay for the sidewalks. “Landowners would construct the sidewalk with redevelopment at the Site Plan level.”

I felt this will send the message, if you develop in Westbrook’s Downtown you have to add sidewalk costs to your project. This may be a drawback for developers.

Diagram Fig 10 shows, a major change to Westbrook Commons. I wonder if it is faster, less construction on Main St and cheaper to re-develop the buildings that are there. That space transformed to nice small shops facing each other, a "sculptor park" and outside cafes but with no traffic. It is in Sec 7.4. This section, I agree with. The only difference is, I prefer a face lift to Westbrook Commons then another building, 5 feet parallel with Main St.

5.Checks and Balances: There are other reports out there for improving Westbrook. I am more in favor of the parking garage proposal for the back corner of the CVS lot. This would allow for easier traffic flow into and out of the city. It would still allow for foot traffic into the city. I could also generate income.

I’m more in favor of creating an ECD task force to bring in developers, show them key areas and saying, “This is our vision. What can you bring to the table?” I know Keith Luke is working hard to do that.

I am a big fan of polling & surveys. If our City was utilizing it’s website more, with surveys, it could generate great data. It would also give citizens, who are unable to attend meetings, a time to be heard.

There are a lot of passionate people in Westbrook that are sharing thoughts to build the City back to it's best. No one has all the answers but we shouldn't shut down conversations nor personalize it because someone is bringing forward a different thought.