Mixed reactions to Monte downtown plan

MONTESANO — Montesano Planning Commission members heard a mixed bag of reactions Thursday night to new design standards for downtown buildings and city streets.

On one hand, residents applauded the plan for creating a more walkable city, with hopes of encouraging more people to go downtown. On the other, some business owners decried the standards as government overreach in the design process, controlling such things as the way light should project from a building or requiring that new buildings in certain areas of the city be two stories tall.

About 30 people gathered inside the Montesano City Hall to pore over details of the plan, which has been a decade in the making.

“At some point in time, people will discover Grays Harbor,” Montesano City Councilman Ken Walkington told everyone involved. “This is a long-term plan. … The Planning Commission is looking 50 years ahead and if it takes 50 years to accomplish it, so be it. Where we end up may not be exactly what’s on paper, but we’re looking at it as a long-term project.”

The big debate was whether to make the standards voluntary or mandatory.

Michael Lawr, who owns a local dentistry, says a mandatory requirement makes no sense to him.

“I think this town has enough difficulties attracting and keeping businesses as it is,” Lawr said. “Additional requirements don’t help.”

Lawr noted that the new standards would dictate he should have a parking lot behind his business and that’s just not possible, he says. Plus, he noted he has no where to hide his garbage can away from the city street, a requirement of the proposed plan.

Chuck Caldwell, who owns a business on Pioneer, also argued against the parking and trash bin requirement.

“I don’t know how you’re going to hide it,” he said.

Former Montesano councilman Chris Thomas said that he thinks the plan respects the historic nature of Montesano.

“I think you need a plan like this, instead of to grow helter skelter,” he said. “But, it may need some more work,” he concedes.

Montesano resident Patrick Wadsworth pointed out that Montesano “is the home to the sidewalks to nowhere.” He’s hoping the plan will help fix those issues.

But Montesano Mayor Ken Estes said that while new and current business owners may eventually be on the hook for paying for improvements to their buildings, the city is on the hook for any of the potential mandates for street and sidewalk improvements. The plan calls for more city benches, tree guards, special bike racks and “bulb outs,” where the corners pop out a bit more from the sidewalk, similar to what the city of Aberdeen has done.

“How many of you — in the pouring rain — want to park any further than half a block?” Estes said. “Not me. Not my wife.”

“Not me either,” someone in the audience shouted out.

“You, as taxpayers, have to realize that somebody had to pay for these standards,” Estes said.”Currently, the city is struggling to maintain what it has.”

Estes said if the Planning Commission and the City Council want to send a tax proposal out to the residents for an up or down vote, and it received approval, then he’d be happy to do what the voters want.

“Put it on a ballot, get citizens approval and we will have the prettiest streets you’ve ever seen,” he said.