Design experts look to create a sustainable Stanwood

STANWOOD — People here maintain they can feel an energy. Perhaps, they say, it’s just that all the right people are participating at just the right time.

“Camano Island and Stanwood are like stepchildren. We live together, but we haven’t always worked well together,” said Randy Heagle, who owns the local Windermere real estate offices. “But it’s a new era. It seems as if everybody is fired up to make this area the best community around.”

To that end, an organizing committee has enlisted the help of the American Institute of Architects. The institute’s Center for Communities by Design has sent a “sustainable design assistance team” of about 10 people to Stanwood this week to hold an intensive community planning session on the potential and future of the Stanwood region. The institute is paying for most of the costs.

During their visit, the team will tour the Camano Island, Stanwood, 7 Lakes and Warm Beach areas, meet with farmers, city and county officials, business leaders, local architects and nonprofit organizations.

Monday, they also hope to hear ideas from other people who live within the boundaries of the Stanwood-Camano School District at a meeting at 6 p.m. at Stanwood Middle School.

The concept of sustainable design is that economic development done with concern for the environment can invigorate a community, make downtown a better place and attract people and jobs, said committee member Ellen Hiatt.

Stanwood already has a lot going for it, she said.

It has an Amtrak platform, business owners who are restoring historical buildings, a group working to establish a YMCA, a new farmers market opening Aug. 10 and a range of annual events that include the Soap Box Derby, the Port Susan Birding Festival, the Great Northwest Glass Quest, the Camano Art Studio Tour, the Stanwood-Camano Fair and Harvest Jubilee.

“And after the design team offers its unbiased recommendations on Wednesday evening at the high school, it’s up to us to provide the enthusiasm to make things happen,” Hiatt said.

The team will help the city understand the opportunities to bring commerce to the region, said Stanwood Mayor Dianne White.

“The expertise and technical assistance that this program will bring to our region will significantly help to further develop our efforts toward conservation and economic development,” White said. “We can be the best place around to live and work.”

Heagle said the result won’t be a plan for a Disneyland-style destination.

“Whether we get anything out of this design project or not, at least we are coming together to talk about it,” Heagle said. “We’re a great bedroom community, but we’re in a tough spot. The economy is bad and most of our city is in a flood plain that’s a real challenge to develop. But if we build a healthy community, the business will follow.”

Stanwood grew up around agriculture more than 100 years ago. Today, it is still a center of activity for the more than 33,000 people who live in the region and drive to Stanwood. However, the population of the city is less than 7,000, and public funds are tight. Any improvements to the region depend on the jurisdictional cooperation of the city, the state and two counties, Island and Snohomish.

The city of Port Angeles is a nearby example of a successful visit by a design assessment team, said the city’s community and economic development director Nathan West.

“The recommendations by our team provided a significant catalyst that inspired a series of projects that have significantly improved Port Angeles,” West said. “The list was sent to our City Council right away and within two weeks, we had implemented 10 ideas. There was a re- awakening of community pride in downtown area and we are seeing that momentum continue.”

West said he would encourage people in the Stanwood area to participate in the meeting Monday night at the middle school.

“We got a lot out of it,” West said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Meeting Monday

“Sustainable Destiny by Design: A conversation to create a healthier community” is set for 6 p.m. at Stanwood Middle School, 9405 271st St. NW.

At the session, people can offer ideas to help make their community more economically sustainable, better-looking and generally healthier.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the team from the American Institute of Architects plans to unveil its recommendations for the future of the Stanwood-Camano area.

That session is in the performing arts center at Stanwood High School, 7400 272nd St. NW.

For more information, go to www.sustainabledestiny bydesign.org

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