|Stakeholders at the Wee Nip during the 2015 Wooden Boat Fest|
On Sept. 27, Port of Port Townsend commissioners and staff heard a presentation by Jim Darling and Michael Stringer of Maul Foster Alongi, a Seattle-based civil engineering and consulting company.
The meeting space on Benedict Street was packed, with 26 spectators, including Port Townsend Mayor Deb Stinson and Northwest Maritime Center Executive Director Jake Beattie.
"Port Townsend is at a crossroads," said Port Executive Director Sam Gibboney, introducing the question of what to do with Point Hudson, "the unspoken, or quiet elephant in the room" with "a rich and very cultural history."
Gibboney explained that the three commissioners, sitting right beside her, had told her and the staff to make it a community project to make decisions about what to do with Point Hudson. She mentioned a "framework for stewardship." Then Darling, after a brief football joke to establish rapport, or whatever, began talking about the market potential of Point Hudson. His company had done a cursory survey (online Survey Monkey) of about 300 people, asking what kind of businesses they'd like to see. The most common answer to that miniscule survey was that people want to see more marine trades; more education; and more restaurants. Darling described his company's ideas of "what the community would like to see, and what would work well for the Port, and for Port Townsend."
His key words: "it's an assessment from a market perspective." Instructed by commissioners to consider the community's desires, Port staff hired consultants to figure out what could give the community the best deal, financially.
"We are also protecting the small-scale nature and historic character," said Stringer. "Currently, it's typically operating at a loss each year," he said of Point Hudson.
"Not true," Carol Hasse half-whispered from her seat amid the crowd of marine tradespeople and other stakeholders. More than 25 people attended this meeting as spectators. Hasse is a world-renowned local sailmaker whose loft is at Point Hudson.
"We met with stakeholders," Stringer continued, flashing a slide labeled "The Process Diagram."
"Except me. I've been here 40 years," muttered Hasse.
"We'll evaluate the alternatives; how they stack up against the financial," Darling said. "We wanted to bracket the range, or the spectrum of alternatives."
Next slide: "Point Hudson Strengths and Values." Bullet points: "Character and Charm. Authenticity of Maritime Heritage. Scenic Views. Natural Resources: Shoreline and Wildlife. Represents Port Townsend as a Working Historic Maritime Community."
That slide slid a mantle of depression over me like a silky sea-otter-fur cape. I think the future hotel's interior decorators are the main audience for this information. This slide was made by people whose job it is to assess how much money we can make from Point Hudson. The design consultants are measuring the comparative potential monetary value of Point Hudson's ephemeral tits and assets. How much is the Charm worth vs. the Scenic View; how much money can we squeeze out of "authenticity" versus "natural resources"? Which theme should the new hotel take on in order to attract the most tourists?
While Stringer talked about what a rare commodity it is to be able to walk from the downtown to a beach with a view of Puget Sound as pretty as Point Hudson's, Hasse sputtered with indignation, "it's not Puget Sound. It's Admiralty Inlet."
Stringer said the creosote smell in some of the buildings is hard for some people to take, he said. Regulation is severe, he said. "Thank goodness," someone in the audience said. Parking is a problem, Stringer said, citing "walkability issues," meaning that there's no sidewalk on the one-lane road from the Maritime Center to Sea Marine; I sensed that Stringer is just aching to build a sidewalk there. "It wants to function like a campus, but right now there's some real choke points that make walking difficult," he said.
I attest that walkers do just fine; it's the cars that sometimes have to slow down on that road. Walkability isn't the issue; drivability is. Consultants use Orwellian doublespeak. At least he acknowledged that there's been a lot of frustrations voiced by the community; "a litany."
Next slide: "What Stakeholders Want." The slide listed:
• Maintain Character and Authenticity.
• Additional Development at the North End is More Acceptable than Changes Around Exisiting Buildings.
• A Wider Range of Uses is Acceptable if it's Compatible Visually.
• More Walkways.
• Organized, Efficient Parking.
Stringer stated that in talking with stakeholders, he heard that "look and feel is more important than use." Which stakeholders said that? The people visiting in their RVs? I think we should do another survey of the community, asking actual stakeholders whether Point Hudson "looks and feels" right.
I am appalled that these consultants appear to be basing their assessment of community desires on so-called "talking with stakeholders" (which ones?) and on an online survey of only 337 people, 250 of which live in Jefferson County. The data is interpreted by the consultants to mean that people are OK with more development, "as long as the appearance and the charm remain fundamentally the same."
Next they compared three possible kinds of development: industrial; hospitality; and retail/restaurant/office. Current market conditions show plenty of available industrial space in PT, he said, but a "market demand" for hotel rooms, which are 80% full in summer, 50% full in winter.
Darling showed a slide with a super-simplistic graph titled "Spectrum of Alternatives," with options A, B, C and D marching up a 45-degree incline from left to right. The Y-axis was labeled "Revenue to Address Need." The X-axis was "Degree of Change." Option A would not change Point Hudson much, but wouldn't earn much money. Option D would change it a lot and make lots of money.
It was a graph whose meaning a four-year-old could grasp: We can either leave your sandbox how it is (option A) and just have inexpensive peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch, or we could put a Starbucks and a Motel 6 on top of where your sandbox was, and maybe have some imported caviar. No, you couldn't play in the sandbox anymore if we got the caviar. And, to be honest, you probably wouldn't get any of the caviar anyway. I don't care if you like peanut butter and just wanna play in the sand. We're gonna build condos and someone's gonna get rich. Now toddle along, but keep being charming while you do it, because authenticity and charm are why this hotel's gonna make so much money.
Option A is for "Anchor." (This is really how they presented the options.)
A: Maintain existing uses, add some flexible light-industrial, improve the walkways (doublespeak: driveability); no zoning changes or changes to the shoreline master plan.
Option B for "Bosun": Get rid of the RVs, add buildings; modify zoning for new, updated uses in the northwest corner; make there be 124 parking spaces. "New buildings in character with historic, with uses similar to existing" buildings.
Option C is for "Compass." (God, these cutesy names are infuriating.) C is also for Cottage Rental Village, and C is for Changes to the shoreline master plan. See? Also get rid of the RVs and get rid of Sea Marine ("Move the yard to Boat Haven." Keep that charm though! "New construction in scale and character with historic buildings." Here's what consultants count: parking spaces. Option C comes with 186 parking spots.
Option D is for "Davit," and is dastardly. Option D is a Boutique Hotel and a cottage rental village, with 35 to 42 new hotel rooms and 30 to 37 cottage rental units. And 239 parking spaces. (And the great silent elephant in the room trumpeted: These are not rentals for locals to live in. These are for visitors who can pay $500 a night.)
"So how do we evaluate these?" Stringer said.
He flashed a matrix on the screen, with A, B, C, D listed on the Y axis and ways to evaluate each option along the top: Market demand; Degree of regulatory change; Community acceptance; Ease of implementation; Risk and resiliency; Financial sustainability. Little X's marked some of the boxes, as if we could use this spreadsheet method to decide what's best to do. "We'll go through this analysis in our next phase," he said.
"We think they're all within the realm of acceptability in Port Townsend," Darling said.
"No, they're not," Hasse said.
"Get those buildings up to shape, get that jetty built," Darling said. His vision is a spiffed-up money-making Point Hudson that's a Disneyland of fake authenticity and superficial charm. His point is that it would pay the bills to build such a thing.
The atmosphere in the ranks of spectators was dark and gloomy. It was as if someone we loved had died. Later, a few people got up to speak about their love for the dearly departed.
"It has to be grounded in financial reality," Gibboney said. "There can be more than just a maritime theme. ... People go down there just to sit and enjoy the view."
"Because it's maritime," Hasse said from the middle row of people who actually work and care about Port Townsend's maritime history, environment and culture.
The next slide was about "increasing risk and reward" on the Y axis, and "shifting control" on the X axis. Meaning, the more we give up the reins, the more money someone might make.
Darling talked about the Maritime Center's proposal to take control of Point Hudson. The Maritime Center is good at programming, he pointed out. "They're better than the Port" at programming -- at putting on festivals and providing reasons for people to visit. "Not-for-profits are way better at [programming.]" He referred to Beattie, NWMC director, sitting in the front row of the peanut gallery, as a "developer" as well as an "operator."
"I'm a passenger on this bus," said Beattie.
Commissioner Pete Hanke asked Beattie if his vision for Point Hudson is "more Discovery School" (referring to the PT School District's ambitious place-based curriculum redesign, which emphasizes maritime education at NWMC) or "Leavenworth/festival," Hanke said.
Beattie replied that he dislikes "the fake German town analogy." Gibboney then expressed approval for that analogy. Beattie said the NWMC is working with some "museum design consultants" on ideas for interpretive and interactive exhibits to lure in people walking down the street, the tourists wandering around like stunned deer, looking for something interesting to do before the next meal. "Wouldn't it be cool if people knew that Brion Toss and Carol Hasse are knocking out some world-class work in one building?" Beattie said. He mentioned the idea of other mooring, to fit in more boats, as well as increasing the vocational-training activity at NWMC. He floated the idea of a lifeboat doing actual training "that was also sort of a spectacle," ending his statements with a reference to the Port's goals.
Gibboney then said something about a tenant license agreements and landlord-tenant relationships. "We need to understand our location," she said ... "environmental and cultural resource liabilities ... the need for capital resource management." I think what she meant was, she'd really like whatever happens at Point Hudson to bring in a ton of money to pay for the $6 million new breakwaters, etc. She asked if commissioners wanted to proceed with further discussions about entering into an alignment and collaboration process with NWMC and the City of Port Townsend, and they said yeah, and they decided on Steve Tucker to be the commissioner to represent the commission.
Brad Clinefelter said he wanted to clarify that "this is not a negotiation process at all." Hanke said that talking to NWMC now, before deciding on a plan, is "a more efficient way to go about this." Gibboney pressed for speed. "Some things have a limited shelf life," she said. "We can't take forever to decide." Hanke said that he and Carol Hasse had been neighbors there at Point Hudson for a long time, and that in spite of previous commissions making plans, she knows nothing's changed, she knows as well as he does.
"It has changed," Hasse said, in the audience, under her breath. "We have new docks, new roofs," she said.
"It's an opportunity for us as a community to create some new neural pathways," Gibboney said.
In public comment, Hasse spoke first. "I love these three commissioners, and I respect them," she said. "And I would place my bet with the Maritime Center board." She spoke of the Wooden Boat Foundation. "I know the vision that we started with," she said, and what she'd like to see.
Ted Schulberg then spoke in favor of keeping the regulations tight, and not changing the shoreline master plan to allow for more development. "I can feel the political pressure on shoreline and zoning regulations," he said. "Hundreds of people created the comprehensive plan and the shoreline plan ... the restrictive development regulations are protecting our values." He pointed out that "nobody's talking about the role of the City as a regulatory authority," and implied that the City has likely violated some ethics rules. "You've been meeting with [city manager David] Timmons for months now behind the scenes," he said. "Once you've crossed that line, and I think you have crossed it, there is huge political pressure."
Joe VonVolkli of Bottoms Up Marine Services then said, "I understand how development works." He asked about "sustainable, living wage jobs." "When I got here 15 years ago there were 4,500 people feeding their families out of this boatyard," he said, meaning Boat Haven; I think he estimated 200 or 300 now. "If we all basically work in a restaurant or housekeeping, that's not going to be a livable wage."
Jake Beattie spoke, expressing sympathy for the actual marine tradespeople. "The patina is more than just an attractor for people who want to come walk around," he said, adding he'd really like to know what the Port's plans are, too. He'd like to know whether the RV park and marina are going to be available next year, because his programming depends on people being able to have a place to stay in their boat or RV while they're attending programs.
Bob Downes spoke next about his deep love for Port Townsend's unique character. "It's all to do with the marine trades," he said. "I'm contemplating letting my roots go deep in Point Hudson right now."
More of this kind of discussion is going to happen on October 6, at an exploratory meeting between the City, the Port and the NWMC.
A public forum was set for October 19. This was at the Marina Room at Point Hudson. Each of the four options was described on a poster on an easel, and people were supposed to stick sticky colored dots on which proposal they liked. The small room was jammed with bodies; I couldn't get to the posters; I didn't know if I deserved to stick a sticky dot; I was overcome with sadness.
However, I encourage everyone to contribute to the conversation. Elected officials, like Port commissioners and City Councilors, need to hear what their constituents want, in an official way, like via an email. I hear a lot of grousing in Port Townsend, and I take part in it also. But grousing actually works a lot better when you do it on the record so the people in local government can actually hear what you want. Don't be a four-year-old. Write an email or something.