“Learn to count” is a political rule and a life axiom. In politics, the goal is to count votes and to shoehorn a majority. In life, to count is to knit farsightedness, judgment and an intuitive sense of the greater good.
Both “to count” definitions inform the Everett City Council’s consideration of the Central Waterfront Planning Area, a critical hunk of land that includes the Kimberly Clark site. Wednesday is decision day, and an informal tally points to the council approving the Planning Commission’s preferred alternative, No. 4, for water-dependent and non-water-dependent mixed use. Both alternative No. 4 and the appealing alternative No. 3, which would permit public access and plug in design standards, are freighted with risks and possibilities. Here “to count” has ramifications. This may be the most significant planning decision in the city’s history.
Allan Giffen, the director of Everett’s Planning and Community Development Department, city staff, and members of the planning commission fine-tuned an impressive, professional report. All agree on the need for height restrictions, prohibiting certain industries (apologies to fish processers), and generating family-wage jobs. Alternative 3 would create the most jobs and, potentially, a workforce more aligned with a 21st century economy.
The alternative that counts, No. 4, provides for water-dependent uses. This stands out as the no-brainer for a deep-water port, although the devil may be in the environmental clean-up. In-water depths only accommodate barge traffic, while dredging and a shoreline permit trigger a clean-up process that will take a long, long time.
The ideal would be a hybrid of Alternatives 4 and 3, one that ensures public access. Contrary to the accepted narrative, the Navy isn’t opposed to trails and access, only in-water public uses. Connectivity to downtown, access and fostering jobs: Assuming that the council embraces No. 4 (we can count) things will fall together, with many of the same risks and possibilities as the alternative.
Northwest author and land-use attorney Chuck Wolfe writes about catalytic land uses, and the Everett waterfront is a compelling example. Planning decisions that ripple out for decades need to meet the public-interest acid test. For that reason, we hope that the Port of Everett’s interest in the property is accompanied by a persuasive explanation for acquiring even more inventory. The port is not a self-sustaining enterprise, assessing a property-tax levy just last month. Acquisition by a public entity that already has its hands full is a risk, one that the port will need to address head-on.
Old hands figure that the waterfront’s future is preordained, that policy and business decisions will unfold like a legal version of “The Sting,” as pieces snap together like Lego. The decision process is mostly ancillary, however, and urban planning is complex. The Lego scenario is fine, as long as the greater public good remains priority one.