|1/23/2013 1:50:00 PM|
City Council continues to debate downtown benches
The topic of downtown benches came to the Leavenworth City Council last September when business owner Sandra Hendrickson came to the council requesting they approve the tubular benches she had placed next to her business.
She was told the benches did not fit the city code. The council took up the bench discussion once again at the Jan. 8 study session. No clear answers have yet to emerge about what to do with the wide variety benches in downtown Leavenworth.
City Administrator Joel Walinski said the Downtown Steering Committee and the Downtown Master Plan specify a certain type of bench. Since the sidewalk is city property, he said the city assumes some liability if benches are placed there.
"If you allow benches on there, the removal and monitoring is about safety," Walinski said. "If one of the enforcement people on staff see a bench is not safe, then it needs to be removed. On the other end, and this is where the Downtown Steering Committee was and the reason the Downtown Master Plan was put together...The reason was the city was beginning to create some aesthetic value for is on the sidewalk."
Identified were light poles, signage and benches, he said. The Steering Committee identified the standard bench in town.
"What we have is a lot of things that fall between," he said. "The questions becomes, with all that we have in between..for the city to manage that. I don't know if it can be done."
The city could take a position the benches would only be managed for health and safety. Or, if the city does want to make an aesthetic choice, he said the council would need to select 10-15 benches that are acceptable.
The council cannot simply identify the characteristics desired in the bench, he said, they must identify which benches are acceptable.
"My feeling is you have a permitted process. And then health and safety only," said Councilman Elmer Larsen,"I like the variety. I hear Sandy and some of those people that say you are imposing a $1,000 bench and all I want to do is have a comfortably place for somebody that buys ice cream. I say, we just get out of it and only worry about what is important."
If there were a permitting process in place, Larsen said unsafe benches could be removed.
Councilman Bob Francis said the city should buy and install the benches so the city retains ultimate control.
"We don't let anybody put down a personal bench. We either go that route or let it work its course and maintain for health and safety," Francis said. "We have so many ways we are infringing on people's personal way of doing things, because of codes and all that. I don't think we need to do it for every single thing."
For Councilman Michael Molohon, it is not so much about the design of the bench, but the upkeep. He feels many of the downtown benches are falling in disrepair.
"That is part of the aesthetic of Leavenworth. That is why the Downtown Steering Committee has been more adamant, saying let's go to a bench that does not deteriorate, that is good quality," Molohon said. "So, it is a maintenance thing to me more than it is a safety issue. Some of these old benches are falling apart and they look terrible."
The city owned benches are painted and varnished every year, Walinski said. He said downtown bench owners could be made to do the same.
Any decision the council makes that is not health and safety related or airing on the side of diversity, is going to be an enforcement issue for Nathan (Pate) and Cary (Siess), Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar said. It could take all their time, especially since there are benches that have been in place 20 or 30 years.
"They are going to claim historical significance," she said. "I am not weighing on either side. If we go with changing out all the benches, we're going to have a lot of complaints and we may end up in court. The Downtown Steering Committee would absolutely disagree with this. The want standardized benches."
Councilman Tibor Lak said eventually there will be something they don't want. Development Services Manager Nathan Pate said anything outside the Bavarian theme gets yanked. He recommended going the permit route.
"Would the council consider 4-5 benches automatically approved? And anything that deviates from those, would go through an approval process like the Design Review Board," Pate said.
Councilman Peter DeVries favored keeping the benches out of the Design Review Board. He felt it could be handled administratively.
Farivar, trying to summarize, said that Sandy's tubular benches would be allowable under the policy, but would not be preferred. Nothing would be grandfathered. A list of preferred benches would be provided, but any bench is allowable as long as it is maintained.
Molohon said the issue is not settled. Lak said there should be 5-10 allowable, and city should be able to say what is not desired, like tubular. Francis said he hasn't heard anybody downtown saying they won't sit on a bench because it is the wrong color.
"You're missing the point," Lak said to Francis. "It's not about sitting on it, it's about what it looks like."
For 98 percent of the businesses, Walinski said they could give a list of 10 benches that meet the Bavarian theme, and those would be accepted.
"There is the potential for someone to come out from the woodwork or under the garbage can and say I would like to put this out on the street and we're going to have to say yes," Walinski said.
No decision was made on the benches, though it was suggested someone go to Germany and take photos of benches. In particular, benches from 1850s Bavaria.
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or email@example.com.
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