City wants waterfront to be a Marysville centerpiece

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MARYSVILLE It is clearly not utilized as much as it could be as part of our downtown development, said Community Development Director Gloria Hirashima.
While city leaders plan to spend the next year outlining the future of the entire downtown area, Hirashima and others said any plans have to include revamping the citys waterfront along Ebey Slough.
A partner with the consulting firm Makers Architecture and Urban Design, John Owen said as he studies downtown Marysville, two topics immediately rise to the top: infrastructure and transportation.
Hired by the city to develop a comprehensive downtown plan, Owen said if real development is to arrive in the area, Marysville needs to plan for increasing its sewer systems and electrical capacity, among other issues.
Theres a lot of through traffic, he added, traffic headed for I-5 that many see as nothing but harmful for downtown business, congesting streets and scaring off shoppers.
Still, Owen agreed waterfront development is going to be key.
Its where we suspect redevelopment might occur first, he said.
Plans are just in the beginning stages, but both Owen and Hirashima talked about a mixed-use area, meaning a combination of retail, office space and residential structures.
The area really seems to be in a state of flux, Hirashima said.
One reason is the sudden availability of properties in the area. Most noticeably, the former Welco lumber plant on First Street is now up for sale.
The plant closed its doors late last year, the last of a number of lumber mills that used to operate along Ebey Slough. While the plant closing was well advertised, Hirashima said other properties, such as a former gas station/car wash near the slough, was recently put on the sales block.
The city already owns another former mill site, what used to be the Interfor plant just to the east of the SR 529 bridge over the slough. Marysville purchased the property in 2006 for $2.2 million. Currently, the 10 acres appears to be a huge parking lot, with only one or two buildings, used primarily by the city sanitation department.
At the time of the purchase, a city press release talked about the land being necessary for waterfront and downtown redevelopment, eventually allowing construction of a waterfront trail.
Today, the trail definitely still is on the drawing board, Owen said. Any new development will have to include setbacks allowing room for the trail, which could become part of an area-wide recreation system.
Still, Hirashima also noted the Interfor property is one of a couple of locations officials are looking at for a unified municipal center.
Weve actually had some interesting discussions about what the city can bring to the downtown, Hirashima said, with infrastructure development being at the forefront. The municipal complex might be another contribution, but the idea has its critics.
I dont see the purpose of moving City Hall down there, said Mary Burns, president of the Downtown Merchants Association. Burns argued such prime real estate as the Interfor site probably could be put to better use.
As for the rest of the waterfront, and indeed all of downtown, Burns likes the idea of mixed-use development.
What Id like to see is condos and shops, things to lure people up here, Burns said.
She further agrees the waterfront needs some special attention. She loves Ebey Waterfront Park, but feels the city perhaps has failed to fully utilize that space.
Its just a little island, she said of the park. It just kind of got dropped.
Hirashima noted the city added what have proved to be some very popular boat launchings in the last few years. There are docks directly connected with the boat launches but Hirashima admits the view from those docks, especially to the right, isnt what the city would like it to be.
For one thing, Owen in particular, would like to see some improvements to the privately held Geddes Marina.
The marina is not a thing of beauty, Owen said.
Citing legal action pending against the city, marina owner Edward Geddes declined comment on his property. He did criticize the city for not following through on previous waterfront plans.
This is just the latest one, Geddes said. Sure, they have their plans, but theyre just that.
Burns echoed some of Geddes comments. She said she felt excitement over a downtown plan put together a few years ago.
And then I just dont know where it went, Burns said.
What were trying to do is build off that earlier effort, Owen said. Were looking at that as our foundation.
Hirashima talked about the rezoning done after the last round of planning, changing the waterfront from industrial to commercial or mixed use.
That was basically the first phase of this effort, she said.
As for the conflict with the Geddes Marina, Hirashima and Mayor Dennis Kendall said the issue revolves around storm water drainage and silt in the slough. They added the disagreement is in the discussion phase, with no court dates yet set. Kendall said downtown or waterfront planning would continue in the meantime.
One aspect of waterfront improvement appears to be on hold for perhaps longer than some city officials would like. The Washington Department of Transportation initially planned to replace the SR 529 bridge over the slough in 2008.
According to a department spokesperson, that date recently has been pushed back to 2010. State officials say the main reason is the softness of the surrounding soil.
Theres been some changes to the seismic guidelines, said WSDOTs Meghan Soptich.
An engineering manager on the project, the states Cathy George said essentially the bridge needs to be redesigned to make it less vulnerable to potential earthquake damage. She added new engineering theories and information gained from earthquake activities elsewhere as well as new soil samples from around the Marysville bridge led officials to conclude they needed to redesign the new structure.
The soils were a bit more unique than we thought, George said.
The current bridge is more than 80 years old, according to WSDOT. The structure is described as a swing span too narrow for current traffic volumes. Its replacement will be a four-lane, fixed span set to the east of the existing bridge.
City officials said they were aware of the delays in the bridge plans.
Its funded, thats the important thing, said Community Information Officer Doug Buell.
The new spans entire $32.3 million price tag will be borne by the state and was approved in a 2005 funding package.

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