By David Chircop Herald Writer
EVERETT — Your next parking ticket could help pay to spruce up the west side of downtown, where a little building boom is under way.
City officials are promoting an $8 million plan that would rebuild sidewalks and streets and bring decorative lampposts, flower- and tree-lined medians and other improvements to eight blocks in downtown Everett.
The project would stretch along Rucker and Hoyt avenues between Everett and Pacific avenues, where several buildings under construction could bring hundreds of new apartments.
“This is a downtown and it should have a downtown feeling,” said Lobsang Dargey, a supporter of the city’s new streetscape plan, who is developing land on the northwest corner of Rucker and Pacific avenues.
Dargey is set to begin construction this summer on Potala Village, a four-story building with 100 apartments and street-level shops. The building, on a former used car dealership site, is scheduled to open by fall 2010, the same time the city expects to complete most of the street improvements.
A two-block stretch of Rucker Avenue from Everett Avenue south will be squeezed from five lanes to two lanes, to discourage through traffic and “humanize” the street.
Street trees and landscaping planted in center medians will create a similar look to Hewitt Avenue through downtown.
Bike lanes will be added to Hoyt Avenue and California Street by eliminating angled parking. City traffic engineers also plan to program traffic signals to favor pedestrians over automobiles.
The idea is to pay for improvements with parking fines, which usually goes to the general fund that pays for things such as police and fire protection.
The City Council, which is in the early stages of looking at the idea, hopes that the work can be done for less than $8 million, because the bidding climate is favorable with the lagging economy.
The city will rebuild streets and sidewalks in stages to cause the least problems possible for traffic and existing businesses in the area, said Dave Davis, director of the city’s engineering services division.
Even so, expect “a lot of dust dirt and trucks in the summer of 2010,” Davis said.
With its gradual slopes and bay and mountain views, city planners expect in the coming years that the most intense development in downtown will focus on the area west of Colby Avenue.
The overhaul mirrors two previous beautification projects that were carried out during the past decade on Colby and Hewitt avenues.
The goal is to use public investments to attract new residents and businesses downtown.
Developers are already required by the city to make street improvements, such as pouring new sidewalks and planting shade trees, on streets fronting new buildings.
The planned street improvements essentially fill the gap between various projects.
Craig Skotdal, president of Skotdal Real Estate, downtown’s largest private landowner, said changing the look and feel of streets can serve as a catalyst for landlords to improve their own properties.
He points to positive results that happened earlier this decade when Seattle spent millions of dollars rebuilding streets and sidewalks along University Avenue.
His company is working on a 198-unit, three building project called Library Place, on the corner of Rucker Avenue and California Street, next to Everett Public Library. The first phase of the project is expected to open this fall with only 21 apartments.
The city at first considered paying for the street improvements through a special assessment district, which would require buy-in from property owners.
The idea was scuttled after city officials determined that there wasn’t enough of a benefit for property owners, who probably wouldn’t vote to tax themselves, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
Instead, the city decided to use parking fines, most of which are collected in the downtown area, to pay for the work. The city collects about $400,000 a year in parking fines. That’s expected to climb substantially this year because the city plans to eliminate a program that deeply discounts parking tickets if they are paid within a day of being issued.
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.