I attended Roger Brooks’ presentation on an assessment of Snoqualmie last week and found the message hasn’t changed. Snoqualmie needs to capitalize on the visitors going to Snoqualmie Falls and the historical railway. Most of us, in the business community, have long realized those are the reasons people come here.
It was good for everyone to hear it from someone with no vested interest in the community, though. Someone who can be a little more critical without feeling the repercussions of lost business or the wrath of a local resident.
But as I sat there listening to Roger, who was good at keeping my short attention span focused, I couldn’t help but think of the roadblocks we have to overcome. To get things done in the business community of Snoqualmie required an ability to jump over hurdles and dodge obstacles on a constant basis.
Case in point: the installation of the steam engine at the intersection of the Parkway and State Route 202. It was an idea born amongst a group of business owners as a way of attracting people downtown when they visit the Falls. It was highlighted as a great idea by Mr. Brooks with the caveat that another be added to the other side. As a person who was instrumental in the installation of the locomotive stood up to leave after the meeting, his comment was, “I don’t think we want to go through that again.”
How sad is that, when an idea coming from business owners to benefit Snoqualmie has several hurdles to clear and obstacles to overcome from the city planning department. My motto continues to be if it’s a good idea and you encounter obstacles, don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness after it’s done. Well, that thinking doesn’t always hold water, but in the case of the locomotive, we pressed forward and ultimately, it looks great sitting there.
Another case in point: a downtown business owner wants to paint their building. Rather than spending the time to come up with a color and plan, they tell the city planning director to pick the color. The point being, it’s easier to let the system decide than coming up with an idea of your own. Well that’s another sad case because last I checked, the city planning director wasn’t creating revenue for the city. Wouldn’t the better solution be to make it extremely easy, with guidelines that are clear and concise for the business owner (who is generating revenue) to use their creative skills to come up with a plan?
Let’s talk landscaping. Roger highlighted the weed problem downtown, showing several examples. In one case, he showed a newer business with neatly trimmed landscaping adjacent to a patch of weeds. The point being, the business owner should take the initiative to deal with the weeds. I totally agree but know that many business owners, after fighting with the city planning director over landscape designs, are tired of the battle and have given up trying to do more. In one case, a business owner planted trees with one leaf color, only to have the planning department say the color was unacceptable and to change them. Is this a case of a moving target, where the only clear plan is in the mind of one planning department staff member, or is the focus not where it should be – on revenue?
There were numerous other suggestions, such as signage downtown, along trails and on roadways; all of which are great ideas not new to the business community. Again, where is the roadblock? Getting business owners to invest in downtown will also require a willingness by the city to accommodate creativity. We aren’t talking about Quadrant, which has the ability to waste money on satisfying the planning department. We are talking about small business owners who have to make a decision between paying themselves or fixing a chair in their restaurant.
But more importantly than a somewhat stifling planning department is the need to just get going. There are business owners and building owners alike who have been asking when can I start? The time is now. Let’s move forward and get the ball rolling. Let’s get the Planning Commisssion involved. Rather than use it to rubber stamp plans for Phase II of Snoqualmie Ridge, lets use it to really help the downtown core gain its own identity. The Planning Commission members have shown a willingness to get involved, now lets use their knowledge and eagerness. Teaming them with business owners and building owners could result in some immediate changes that will benefit the city.
Roger was clear on the reasons Snoqualmie needs to change. It’s all about the almighty dollar and a community’s ability to thrive. My question is this: without some willingness by the Planning department to foster relationships rather than just be dictatorial, can the city survive?