Downtown Everett plan begins to stir excitement

As the vision for Everett’s downtown core gets clearer, it gets more attractive.

Imagine a clean, vibrant metropolitan center that reflects Everett’s history as an industrial milltown. A dynamic mix of residential, commercial and entertainment venues. Streetscapes with trees, ground-floor shopping and awnings to protect pedestrians from the rain. Modern buildings that are taller than those of today but that preserve view corridors. Dedicated routes for bicycles. A clear separation between downtown and the residential neighborhoods to the north and south.

That’s the direction city planners are going as they continue refining a new comprehensive plan for downtown. Planning commissioners, at a workshop last week, liked what they saw.

They should. The plan taking shape is the product of a public process that has had hundreds of participants. That input is guiding a vision of a downtown that isn’t a copy of anyone else’s – a place where people live, work, play and do business in an atmosphere that combines old and new, natural beauty and architectural excellence.

The city’s planning staff is recommending new regulations for building heights downtown that would put the tallest buildings, up to 200 feet, along the Colby ridge. Heights would gradually decrease toward the harborfront to the west and Broadway to the east. Rules and incentives would limit the width of buildings, preserving view corridors.

Other ideas to like:

* Revamping Rucker Avenue much like Hewitt Avenue was, with trees on the sidewalks and medians, old-fashioned streetlights and neighborhood-oriented services on ground floors between Everett and Pacific avenues.

* Dedicated bicycle routes on Hoyt and perhaps on California, and a dedicated walking route along Grand Avenue that winds down to the waterfront.

* Ideas for managing downtown car traffic. One is to create a transportation management association, a privately managed entity that could arrange for transit discounts for downtown residents and workers, match people for carpools, and plow revenue from on-street parking back into downtown improvements. Reducing the number of car trips reduces the need for parking spaces, perhaps leaving more room for well-planned open space.

Open space should be high on the priority list, lest it be overrun as new development takes hold. A citizen group, the Committee to Establish Downtown Public Spaces, has been forming ideas for the past two years. The city needs to tap this resource.

A final plan could be approved by the City Council as soon as this spring or summer. If it follows the present course, and the economy remains strong, downtown Everett could quickly become one of the region’s most envied jewels.

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