WWU students to have a go at downtown corridor plan

ARLINGTON – The city is enlisting college students to create a downtown corridor plan and bring a fresh perspective to the look and feel of main street.

The City Council Monday voted to contract with Western Washington University’s Sustainable Communities Partnership for a year of courses and community-engaged learning aimed at helping develop a plan for downtown that will lean on business owners and other key partners for support.

The city has worked hard over the last several years on initiatives to revitalize the downtown corridor, said Sarah Lopez, city community revitalization project manager.

“We want to have a strategic long-term plan that addresses retaining the character of the area, identifying improvements, capitalizing on the Centennial Trail, expanding the physical main street area, using the Main Street programs and identifying smart growth initiatives,” Lopez said.

Costs will not exceed $37,500.

WWU program coordinator Lindsey MacDonald said the Sustainable Communities Partnership has a track record of working with several north Puget Sound cities and counties, drawing students from more than a half dozen disciplines.

“My job is to connect student energy and faculty expertise with the real sustainability ideas and challenges facing communities,” MacDonald said.

“SCP gives local governments a place for tangible and positive change, while students benefit from the practical applications” of interacting with stakeholders and community members, researching and reporting on an issue of interest in the community, she said.

Students and faculty worked with Bellingham on a door-to-door Whatcom County Disaster Preparedness Survey; Ferndale to review downtown design regulations and create a city center plan; and Monroe for trail design, research and public outreach for the US 2 By-Pass Trail and transportation analysis measuring connectivity improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Tasks toward completing Arlington’s corridor plan would include community workshops, visioning, surveys, interviews and researching existing building and street conditions to develop alternative urban design ideas based on the community’s preferences. In later courses, student teams would drill down deeper into downtown design standards, suggested city center amenities such as streetscape and urban design improvements, wayfinding and the regulatory reform and public and private investment opportunities that could take plans to the next level.

Councilwoman Debora Nelson asked how the end product from the students would be used.

Lopez said the results would enable the city to start budgeting to carry out the downtown plan, seek grant opportunities, and identify projects that key stakeholders such as the council, Downtown Arlington Business Association and others invested in downtown can get behind.

“We haven’t done a lot of outreach to create a downtown plan,” Lopez said.

Mayor Barb Tolbert said the downtown plan goes a little further than the ideas for infrastructure such as sidewalks and streets that emerged during the America’s Best Communities competition a few years ago. The downtown plan would also help prioritize projects for funding.

University of Washington students a decade ago developed guidelines for Olympic Avenue that helped define the character of a downtown that now is thriving.

In other action:

* Council approved a $5,000 services agreement with the Northwest Innovation Resource Center to partner with the city to provide startup and operations for the future TheLab@arlington, lend support for local enterpreneurs and inventors, and share presentations with community and government groups about help available for entrepreneurs in the area. The city hopes to house TheLab@arlington in the Howell “old Shell station” property at 4th Street and Olympic Avenue. The building could be leased to a business incubator organization, serve as a start-up business facility, or develop as a site for entrepreneur and inventors education. City officials said the Howell pocket park project plans to go to bid in late October or November, then open in early spring.

* Awarded a $56,256 contract to low bidder Southern by Design Contractors for landscape maintenance services at Arlington Cemetery. City maintenance workers have taken care of the grounds since 1998, but it has become a burdensome task as the city has grown, Public Works Director Jim Kelly said. Officials said contracting is a more cost-effective route and the cemetery is financially self-sufficient.

* Approved creating a public works inspector position to inspect city and developer-funded infrastructure projects for water, sewer, stormwater, transportation and other services during the non-construction season. The position will pay $116,000 a year.

* Proclaimed September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, encouraging resident to support children in the community who are battling cancer.

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