After nearly ten years of practicing the Downtown Plan, it is clear the city has no intention of honoring many of the original commitments made to the community they serve when the plan was sold to the public in 2006. The city council and the bureaucracy it supposedly controls appear to feel very little responsibility to the surrounding neighborhoods suffering the impacts of that plan. In fact, their stated position is that the plan is benefiting the very residents who feel most abused by its outcomes. So, it should come as no surprise that many have concluded they can no longer trust the city to keep their word.
To get just an introductory sense of what this is about, look at the beautiful new senior care facility at 230th and 56th, The Vineyard Park project. Anyone paying attention to the process which brought us the Downtown Plan, of which the Vineyard is a part, will remember the enthusiasm nearby residents had for a boulevard with many new street level commercial businesses on the ground floor of the apartment buildings allowed along 56th Avenue. Even though mixed-use development promised an enormous increase in density downtown, many neighbors were willing to accept that downside for the upside promise of commercial revitalization represented as coffee shops, book stores and restaurants to name just a few.
So where is the ground floor commercial space in that project? You don’t have to go back to 2006 to find references, indeed promises, made by city officials that the ground floor of that building would have rentable commercial space. The former city manager, the former head of planning and the current interim city manager in an earlier stint in the same position all assured us there would be tenants in the space now openly occupied by the dining room and offices of that business.
But, then, if you look 6 blocks south to the even larger Arbor Village project, maybe the Vineyard owners are the smart ones. After nearly two years of trying, Arbor Village has only one small space rented and few lookers for the rest. Yet the other three corners of 56th and 236th have been re-zoned to allow the same type of project, an accomplishment trumpeted by the city as evidence of the virtues of their long-term vision as if the prospective developers of those corners would somehow ignore the lack of interest in the ground floor space in the Arbor Village project.
And the land immediately north of the mosque at 56th and 238th is about to begin development of 48 units of senior housing with their “commercial” component not even on the street side and only accessible via a narrow walkway. There won’t even be the suggestion of street level commercial space nor any parking to service it even if there were. The parking access isn’t even on 56th; it is via a one-lane easement along the southeast property line putting even more unwanted traffic congestion into what was and still wishes to be a quiet residential neighborhood. A similar fate awaits the Gateway neighborhood when the old Evergreen School site is developed.
What happened to the wonderful vision of 56th becoming a show place boulevard, you know the concept which justified our much appreciated $20 car tab tax? Well, when it was first advertised to us at the inception of that tax, it was a $12 million enterprise with nearly $1 million of future earnings from that tax. That has now been augmented by State and Federal promises for another $2 million. So, we now have $3 million of promises to fund what has become a $15-$18 million project. When we started down this path, it was $11 million in the hole; now it’s $12-$15 million in the red. They call that progress. The residents occupying single family homes in the surrounding neighborhoods face the resulting traffic and parking hassles from all the new apartment development and wonder how progress is measured.
Our city council is driven, for some still inexplicable reason, to keep us on a course which sacrifices the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods in favor of a regional growth imperative that we apparently have no independent right to resist. Council doesn’t resist at all. They wished everyone spent less time noticing and more time sharing their Taj Mahal Town Center fantasies. Those living in the widening impact swath are growing in numbers as even former supporters realize that the impacts upon them are much greater than expected and not accompanied by even a whiff of mitigation.