Several citizens speak in support of the project
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — An outpouring of public support, which had not yet been seen for the proposed changes to Second Street, accompanied the Board of Public Works’ unanimous decision Monday night to approve the final design for the so-called pedestrian corridor.
Once again business owners who feel they would be negatively impacted by the changes to Second Street voiced opposition to the project, but eight residents and Main Street Marshfield Executive Director Angie Eloranta spoke in favor of the plan.
The proposed changes to Second Street are designed to make the area a more pedestrian friendly corridor by adding traffic-calming measures, green space, outdoor seating, and other aesthetic elements such as pedestrian lighting. Designs also call for the creation of one-way streets from Central Avenue heading west for one block to Chestnut Avenue and for one block heading east from Central to Maple Avenue. Angled parking would allow the area to maintain much of its parking, going from 36 spaces to 32 spaces in the two-block stretch. Loss of parking has been a main point of contention for business owners.
“We wanted to look at where we could maximize parking because that was the one thing that was very important to the businesses and property owners,” said City Planner Josh Miller. Parking would be on the south side of the street in the corridor with loading zones available outside of Mitten’s Home Appliance and the Charles Apartments on the north side of the corridor.
Judge John Adam Kruse, whose law office sits in the Second Street corridor, said that while he appreciated the city’s work on the project, he ultimately disagreed with the proposed changes. He said that a significant portion of his clientele is elderly or has disabilities, and not having parking on his side of the street would be challenging. He added that the only reason to make a significant change to Second Street would be if the downtown was not thriving.
“I still think you ought to have a presumption not to do anything if the downtown is thriving and if the downtown is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. In this case I think you have to agree it is thriving,” Kruse said. He noted that as a judge he is not allowed to speculate about what could be and that the city should take the same approach. Kruse also questioned the idea of outdoor seating or dining areas when no restaurants currently occupy the corridor.
“I’m still trying to figure out what problem you’re fixing,” Kruse added.
The architect for the project, Randy Lueth, responded to Kruse’s comments by saying, “In the design profession we can speculate. We try to promote other activities to happen in a certain place.” Lueth noted that businesses along the corridor could change over the long term, and by making the area more pedestrian friendly and available for outdoor seating, it could encourage future development for restaurants to move into the area.
John Sikora, representing Mitten’s Home Appliance, reiterated his business’ opposition to the project and concern over the loss of parking.
“We couldn’t be more opposed to this project,” Sikora said. “I can’t believe we’re still sitting here talking about this. … I haven’t heard anybody come out publicly and say that, ‘We are for this project.’”
Up until last night there had not been much positive sentiment about the corridor from the public. On social media there have been widespread negative comments toward the project with very few positive remarks. However, after the business owners spoke at Monday’s meeting, a slew of citizens spoke in favor of the project, as did Eloranta.
Former council member Char Smith spoke, saying she did her own “empiric” study of the corridor, driving through the two-block stretch four times throughout the day Monday and found, “In that area at most there were five cars parked.”
Al Michalski, a member of the city’s Economic Development Board, said he thought opponents to the project were more concerned with change than parking.
“There are parking lots on all four corners of Second Street: the post office, police station on the Chestnut side, two parking lots on the Maple side,” Michalski said. “I think the real issue here is change. Change is difficult for everyone, and most immediate reaction to change is opposition, but change can also move us forward if we give it a fair chance.”
Marshfield resident Joe Gustafson said that his family spends a great deal of time downtown.
“I would think the downtown businesses would be the most vocal supporters of this simply because more and more people are becoming active,” Gustafson said. “I think the forward thinking of looking at what potentially could be here I think is visionary and something that’s necessary if we intend to move the city forward and make that downtown area a destination location.”
Common council approval is the last hurdle the project must clear before being finalized. The plan goes before the council at next Tuesday’s meeting.