By SCOTT GRAVES
Planning consultants for the City of Brookings have left town, carrying with them the hopes and dreams of what city officials, merchants and residents envision for the downtown area.
The consultants, of RBF Consulting Urban Design Studio (UDS) in Irvine, Calif., will return in about six weeks with a ?vision? poster and loose guidelines.
The information will be massaged into a final plan through the course of several more public meetings.
On Saturday, more than 40 people attended a day-long workshop during which they broke into three specific groups to brainstorm on circulation and traffic, land use and public art.
Much of the discussion stemmed from separate focus group meetings that happened the week before as part of ?immersion? week (see related stories this issue).
Consultant Al Zelinka asked Saturday?s participants to be ?creative, don?t hold back.
?You guys just focus on the ends, we?ll take care of the means,? he said.
The end result was a tentative vision plan for downtown that many felt would work with or without a couplet, include a park-like plaza in the middle, establish a new civic center, and allow for a mixture of tourism-related and commercial uses.
The highlight of the event came when the consultants presented 142 slides depicting design elements and asked participants to rank them in terms of like or dislike. The categories included commercial signs, trash receptacles, lamp posts, buildings, benches, planters, trees and paving designs.
The results of the survey, presented later that day, seemed to match the consensus of the group in most areas.
After the slide show, participants separated into three ?design teams? to tackle specific issues.
Circulation and traffic
The circulation and traffic team envisioned a ?local loop? with Chetco Avenue running through the middle of it. The loop, called local because residents are already using it to skirt traffic on Chetco Avenue, consists of Alder, Railroad, Center and Easy streets.
The area within the loop south of Chetco Avenue, which includes Hemlock, Spruce, Willow and Fern streets, would be redeveloped into a ?deeper downtown? with signs on Chetco Avenue directing visitors into the area.
One idea, which the group agreed needed further investigation, was to eliminate left-hand turns for northbound traffic from Chetco Avenue onto Oak and Central streets. This would help keep traffic on Chetco Avenue from building up behind vehicles turning left.
The group also discussed the idea of installing protected left-hand turn lanes for northbound traffic on Chetco Avenue onto Alder and Center streets.
There is currently enough room on Chetco Avenue to develop a protected left-hand turn lane onto Alder Street, but to put one at Center Street may mean eliminating some public parking on the corner of Center Street and Chetco Avenue, Zelinka said.
?That?s a choice for the group: Is it worth losing some parking in front of the Central Building to gain a left-turn lane?? he said.
The loop, with limited left-hand turn lanes leading into the downtown area, may alleviate traffic on Chetco Avenue enough to ?limit the immediacy of the couplet or perhaps eliminate the need for it,? he said.
He said a similar type of loop has been designed, approved and will be implemented next summer in the Taft section of Lincoln City. The project was done in cooperation with Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
City Manager Leroy Blodgett liked the loop idea, saying it was a good idea whether it was a long-term or mid-term solution. ?And it wouldn?t cost a whole lot.?
The catch, Zelinka said, was to get ODOT to approve the idea. He said he would send the final plans, once approved by the city, to ODOT for its consideration. The left-hand turn lane idea would have to match what ODOT officials have in mind for Chetco Avenue.
?Who knows, ODOT may validate this idea,? he said.
The land use team developed a plan that would use the public library and the post office as anchor points for the downtown area.
The team also focused on developing as much parking as possible in the downtown area, which may include buying or leasing empty lots and turning them into parking lots.
Because City Hall and the Brookings Fire Department needs to expand beyond their existing facilities, the group suggested a civic center for local government and city departments be built in the area at the end of Wharf Street near the coast.
The team also proposed building a senior college at or near Chetco Point, establish trails and wildlife viewing points along the mill pond, and place interpretive signs around the city?s wastewater treatment plant.
This last idea struck a chord with many participants. Zelinka explained that other cities have chosen to ?celebrate? their sewage plants by installing interpretive signs that explain what goes on inside and how it works with the environment.
The land use team also suggested that the area around the bowling alley and public library be used as a community recreation area, a place where a recreation center or indoor swimming pool could one day be built.
As for the downtown area itself, the team recommended that a greenbelt or plaza be created in the middle, perhaps with a small creek running through it.
The streets surrounding the plaza would feature a mix of cottage and tourism-related businesses and shops.
The public art team, which also discussed architectural elements such as building styles, benches and planters, proposed a downtown area that incorporated the natural environment and the region?s history. This would include incorporating elements of the ocean, rivers and mountains with the history of logging, fishing and Indians.
The group proposed playing off the city?s ?Home of Winter Flowers? statement and incorporate flowers into as much of the downtown design as possible.
The team also suggested installing arched entry ways into the downtown area at four different entry points, in accordance with the loop system.
At one point, the group suggested installing textured paving at key intersections along Chetco Avenue to slow motorists down enough to notice the downtown area.
As for an overall design theme, the team recommended a simple, ?arts and crafts? style of buildings, planters, benches and street lamps reminiscent of the period from the 1900s to the 1920s.
The style called for ?fairly plain designs? in earth tones such as tans, browns and greens that incorporate river rock and other natural elements.
Saturday?s brainstorming sessions concluded at City Hall when the consultants, city staff and members of the city?s downtown committee reviewed the day?s results.
?This has been an amazing week for us,? Zelinka said.
Blodgett said the process of an immersion week ?worked well. A lot of people participated.?
Zelinka said he was impressed with the number of people who attended the various focus group meetings and workshops for a town the size of Brookings.
Urban Design Studio consultant Susan Jackson said it will take about six weeks for the firm to put all the ideas, sketches and suggestions made by participants into a draft vision plan.
?We?ll be back around the end of April to present a vision poster to the community,? Jackson said. ?We?ll hold a series of public meetings and fine tune it.?