Instead of a wave of support, the suggestions offered by a paid consultant for developing Richland’s waterfront seem to have caused a ripple of alarm in the community.
The consultant’s ideas, however, are preliminary and Richland city officials are planning to gather public input before determining a final vision for the city. Judging by the Herald’s reader response to the consultant’s proposal, there could be a clash between those who believe in developing the city’s prime real estate and those who think open spaces should remain open.
It is admirable that the Richland City Council is looking ahead, trying to find ways to improve the community and attract more business. The construction of the new Hapo Community Stage at John Dam Plaza, for example, is a great new addition and is sure to bring people together for concerts and other events.
Figuring out ways to make the most of the city’s potential is important. But as a new vision is formed, it will be crucial that city officials actively engage the community in this discussion. They also will need to give plenty of notice of when development plans are scheduled to be discussed – unlike recently, when the meeting to unveil the consultant’s proposal was announced unexpectedly with about two days notice.
People need time to process change, and they need to know city officials will be responsive to their concerns. By not providing enough time for people to make it to a public meeting, city officials set up apprehension and puzzlement right from the start.
If, however, city officials do all they can to gather public input and people don’t participate, then that’s the fault of the citizenry.
Roger Brooks, an Arizona-based consultant originally from the Puget Sound area, was hired to create a preliminary vision that would attract private development and stimulate the city’s economy. He is the same adviser who in 2014 helped develop a new marketing brand for the Tri-Cities, so it makes sense that Richland city officials would trust he knows the area.
But the report detailing how to use undeveloped real estate near Richland’s waterfront has received a backlash.
The idea, for instance, of turning Columbia Point South into a possible theme park worries those who don’t want to see the property built up. The plan to build condos, restaurants and shopping areas on property not far from the shoreline also has generated a negative reaction.
Many Herald readers questioned why the preliminary plan suggests narrowing George Washington Way from five lanes to four when it is a major commuter route to Hanford, and the traffic is bumper to bumper during rush hour.
In response, Brooks wrote on the Herald website that nothing in the proposal would take away public access to the waterfront, and that his ideas actually would relieve congestion on George Washington Way and make the area more pedestrian friendly.
There obviously needs to be a better understanding of what the consultant’s plans suggest and how that matches up with what the community wants. The only way to get there is by talking about this issue in the open, with as much public participation as possible.