The Waterfront Plan Work Group got off to a rocky start Wednesday night when it took half an hour just to approve the minutes from the prior week, although its members eventually got into a groove.
City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who generally oversees the work group as a non-voting member, was unable to attend as he was stuck on a plane in Chicago. Professional moderator Sherry Schiller was also absent, leaving city Planning and Zoning Director Faroll Hamer to lead the group.
Some friction was apparent from the get-go when member Bob Wood, who listened to the prior meeting via teleconference, suggested changes to that meeting’s minutes.
Mindy Lyle responded: “These are minutes. Why are you trying to change things?” Nate Macek added: “This is not the time to fine tune. These are minutes… The time is now to approve a factual record of our meeting.”
Once ruffled feathers were smoothed, the group got into the nitty-gritty by tacking marinas, piers, the shoreline and more.
Marinas, Piers and Shores
The group agreed that a Waterfront Plan should include options for docking locations for commercial boats and ships of character , although Bert Ely said he had grave concerns that the “devil is in the details” and at some point the group would have to go beyond the general.
He also rebuffed the idea that a new pleasure boat marina was feasible, but the group was generally copacetic to the idea that a plan “could include the option” for that—feasible or not.
The group also reached consensus that the pleasure and commercial boat activities should be physically separated, but said their group’s members should not specify where on the waterfront that should occur.
Members also were able to adopt some vision statements and briefing papers by saying “in principle” they agreed with their intent if not specifically line-by-line.
There also was much banter about whether the city should offer a public boat ramp for non-motorized vessels. Ely pointed out that a trailer likely would be needed to tow a 50-foot sailboat “which is incompatible with the center of Old Town.”
They also made headway by agreeing that environmental issues should be addressed in the design and engineering of shoreline improvements.
One of the 800-pound gorilla issues involved in the waterfront debate briefly lumbered into the room when Wood suggested adding new language to the draft plan: “New public piers should not impinge on existing private piers.”
That prompted input from the City Attorney’s Office noting the legal issues surrounding that language.
City Attorney James Banks explained to Patch during a break that the dispute between the city and the over whether the club’s piers encroach upon the city’s riparian rights could fall under that proposed new language.
Most of the group members felt that they didn’t know enough about the legal issues on the point that they would feel comfortable adding it to their document. Wood and Ely favored the language.
The group then moved to History and Art.
History and Art
The group agreed that its plan should include the History Plan recommendations in principle and said history should be considered in the design process in both public and private spaces.
The group was somewhat stymied by language that said historic buildings should have “active uses on the ground floor that are welcoming to the public.”
Hamer explained that city staff believed that many historic buildings should be accessible so that the public could view the compelling insides of these historic buildings. Group members agreed but sought clearer language.
All members agreed that public art should be a distinguishing feature of the waterfront’s public realm.
Wood suggested that there be flexible space not just for the performing arts but for citizen events as well. He also said the plan should address commitment to several streams of funding for art and history.
That prompted some dissension among members who felt that the language should be included in the funding portion of the plan.
“This was raised repeatedly by public input that says you have to show something more concrete,” Wood said, adding that a plan should address the commitment for a “range of sources.” David Olinger of the Old Town Civic Association abstained. Lyle disagreed. Macek said he would agree but believed the issue should be moved out of the section.
They all agreed that artists and historians should be included in the design and implementation processes of public spaces. During the public comment period, citizen Julie Van Fleet suggested an art historian be involved.
Commenter Van Van Fleet said the marina on the Robinson Terminal site is not “doable” because the Army Corps of Engineers won’t approve it. “You should put the heat on [City Council] to . That’s where we should put slips for boats, kayaks and canoes,” he said.
He added that the lawyer’s comment on Wood’s efforts to add language about impinging piers “smells of eminent domain,” which he said was not established so that a city could take property for its aesthetic value.
Pitt Street resident Hugh Van Horn said construction of hotels along the waterfront would dishonor the city’s history and prevent its use. He cited a study from Newport, R.I., revealing that it’s a false assumption that hotels on the water yield more revenue than other means.
Other commenters expressed concern over the added girth and height of buildings along the waterfront and said the plan did not dabble in moderation, but was too extreme.
The group will next meet Oct. 19 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the City Council workroom at .