Two groups of pedestrians sneak past each other on a narrow sidewalk along 271st Street on Friday, in the Historic East Downtown in Stanwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Two groups of pedestrians sneak past each other on a narrow sidewalk along 271st Street on Friday, in the Historic East Downtown in Stanwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ambitious plan seeks to connect, beautify Stanwood’s twin downtowns

“We have this mile-long straight road with sidewalks and a lot of places to fill in.” Now, the city is working to close the gap.

STANWOOD — Sidewalk cafes, pocket parks, plazas, planting strips, spruced-up storefronts.

These are just some of the changes the city of Stanwood is considering to help revitalize a mile-long stretch of its downtown. The ambitious plan, in its early stages, is called the Twin City Mile Project.

A main goal is to connect the east and west downtown areas in the city of about 8,400 in north Snohomish County.

“I think one of the unique issues about Stanwood is the fact it was two towns,” said Mayor Sid Roberts.

Stanwood and East Stanwood were separate cities until they joined in 1960. Today, there are two distinct shopping districts on the east and west with Stanwood Middle School and a QFC in the middle.

“We have this mile-long straight road with sidewalks and a lot of places to fill in,” Roberts said.

The city has not yet decided on specific projects. An 11-member committee has worked since January to narrow down concepts, and the Stanwood City Council will review their recommendations at its meeting July 28.

Traci Smith has run The Picnic Pantry, a gift and kitchen shop, in east Stanwood for five years, and is one of several business owners on the committee.

“My immediate need is definitely pedestrian safety,” she said, adding that drivers often zoom down 271st Street NW at 40 mph.

Smith said she would like to see features to slow traffic, such as more visible crosswalks. One idea is to add brick crossings, which would mirror the brick road on the west side of town.

She hopes to see Stanwood become more of a destination for tourists and also cater to new residents.

“With people moving out of bigger cities to smaller towns, it’s bringing in a younger crowd and people who walk and bike,” she said. “And we aren’t set up for that.”

The 277 respondents in a public survey in May said they favored sidewalk cafe spaces, streetside trees and hanging flowers. Pedestrian comfort and aesthetics were also top priorities.

The city is starting a Storefront Improvement Program, which will provide small grants to property owners to liven up building facades.

Council Member Steve Shepro said Stanwood’s Twin City Mile Project fits with the Strong Towns movement, an approach to designing cities founded by engineer Charles Marohn.

The movement emphasizes pedestrian-friendly downtowns that draw people in to walk and shop door-to-door, said Shepro, an urban planning enthusiast.

He also hopes to see Stanwood become a more attractive space for events and festivals.

“I’ve talked to one of our restaurant owners who says every time we close the street in front of her restaurant for an event, her sales go way way up,” he said.

Downtown revitalization is one of six projects identified in the city’s Beautification Action Plan in December 2020. Those efforts grew out of a economic development plan adopted in 2008.

Patricia Love, Stanwood’s community development director, said the city plans to ask the City Council for funding for the next project phase when it passes a new biennial budget this fall.

A large portion of project funds will likely come from grants, the mayor said.

“We’re kind of at the first step of a long process,” Roberts said. “I think when people began to get the vision of how cool it will be, they will come on board.”

More information can be found at stanwoodtwincitymile.com.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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