Nov. 28, 2007
Sequm, WA - A city-owned piece of land at the intersection of East Spruce Street and North Sunnyside Avenue could be an ideal spot for a park or plaza to mark the transition between residential and commercial sections of downtown Sequim.
Sequim officials may reduce planning for vehicle traffic and step up pedestrian-friendly groundwork downtown.
The shift hints at momentous changes in the city’s town center. In order to have downtown keep pace with a pedestrian-oriented atmosphere, the city must have plans to make it so, according to Sequim capital projects manager Frank Needham at a Nov. 20 Sequim Planning Commission meeting where he presented the first draft of the Town Center Sub-Area Plan.
“This plan fosters better integration of the pedestrian aspect of our community by encouraging affordable housing near the downtown core and new commercial and recreational opportunities,” Needham said. “That way we have citizens with the ability to walk to work, retail centers and entertainment from their homes.”
A 12-member subcommittee, comprised of citizens and city staff, has been working on this draft of the Town Center Plan for nearly a year, incorporating similar studies done in 2002.
The document would manage the town center, much as the Comprehensive Plan does for city planning. Once adopted by the city council, either in its current or an amended form, planners will begin drafting new codes and zones to reflect the plan’s vision.
The draft puts boundaries on the town center, roughly Brown Road and Fifth Avenue on the east and west and Fir and Hammond streets on the north and south.
The rectangular-shaped core identifies commercial corridors along Sequim Avenue and Washington Street as potentially a “T”-shaped commercial zone. Each corner of the town center, separated by the commercial corridors, would become high-density residential nodes.
“People ask how we can make areas already built out a high-density classification,” Needham said. “It’s important to note this plan looks 30 to 50 years into the future.”
If high-density zoning were adopted, the existing houses would be considered legal but non-conforming. Any new development in those areas would have to conform to the new zone.
The residential corners likely would see height increases, encouraging condominiums and town homes such as Oak Tree Condominiums on North Sequim Avenue.
Planning commissioner Susan Lorenzen spoke out against additional heights in the residential areas.
“It seems the highest and best use is in conflict with the character and heritage of Sequim,” Lorenzen said.
But in order to make living in a revitalized downtown affordable, developers must build up, local developer and planning commissioner Larry Freedman said.
“We thought this was an opportunity to look at inclusionary zoning, or requiring 10 percent of new development to be affordable for Sequim’s work force,” Freedman said. “We didn’t consider it for the commercial portion but thought the residential portions would be ideal.”
Needham said having affordable housing near jobs is an important part of the Town Center Plan.
“Every economic segment of this community should be able to participate within the community,” Needham said. “We don’t want to create ghettos or an elitist downtown, so the 10 percent would have to be mixed in with other housing.”
Sequim Realtor Mike McAleer, a member of the subcommittee, said it is important to recognize the correlation between transportation and affordable housing issues.
“Anyone that commutes to Port Angeles can see the difference in flow when cars are coming into Sequim for work in the morning and going back in the evenings,” McAleer said. “This plan is a little out of the box, but I believe it will come to fruition in encouraging a successful commercial and residential downtown.”
The city would use an array of plazas and promenades to connect the residential nodes with the commercial corridors.
The plan likely would increase the height limits in commercial corridors to foster additional mixed-use opportunities, much like the slated Elk Plaza development a half block east of Sequim Avenue on Washington Street.
“You can build five floors within a 65-foot building,” Needham said of the proposed height limit. “That way there would be retail on the bottom and perhaps office space and residential on floors above that.”
Needham indicated the subcommittee intended to keep big box stores out of the town center, preferring smaller, local businesses.
With additional business and residential opportunities in the same place, people will be able to walk and bike more often, hopefully freeing up some of the expected impacts the plan will have on the traffic infrastructure.
“We can’t ignore the increase in potential traffic and the need for additional parking spaces,” Needham said.
He said downtown Sequim has 39 underutilized parking lots. The subcommittee suggested some type of shared parking mechanism that businesses and the city could promote together to create a bustling downtown.
The success of the Town Center Plan hinges on developer participation. But looking at projects like the Elk Creek Apartments on the edge of downtown and Elk Plaza, Needham said development already has started in the direction the plan lays out.
“We need a Town Center plan to make sure downtown development meets design requirements and zoning that will continue to foster our town’s feel, while creating opportunities to make the area more vibrant,” Needham said.
Initially proposed changes to development standards in Sequim’s downtown from the draft Town Center Sub-Area Plan include:
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