Pendleton Main Street merchants and building owners were united and a little angry at a public hearing on downtown improvements held by the Planning Commission on Thursday.

They do not want the street reduced from four lanes to three. They oppose widening the sidewalks. They don’t want any change in parking since that would trigger state regulations for crosswalk safety that eliminate 16 precious spots for customers to use in the downtown.

Then, too, the merchants are fearful that reconstruction of either the sidewalks or street would block access to their businesses. This, several felt, may mean a loss of revenue that could put them out of business.

The group shared a letter from the owners of the Pendleton Dairy Queen that told of how much the reconstruction work near the Round-Up grounds impacted business at the restaurant. 

“Please, please don’t do this to us,” pleaded Cheryl Stewart, owner of  Calico Country Florist.

Main Street merchants have support from an unscientific poll on the East Oregonian’s website. Online visitors can register their option of whether the city should narrow streets and widen sidewalks.

As of Saturday, the vote was 19 percent yes and a resounding 69 percent no.

Scott Fairley, commission chair, and Evan MacKenzie, city planner, pressed the merchants as to why they had not spoken up sooner.

The current plan, the subject of the hearing, began more than a year ago. It is built upon a series of other plans and studies during the past 10 years that explored what could be done to rejuvenate and improve Pendleton’s core. 

A Oregon Department of Transportation grant of $160,000 has allowed another look. The commission employed Siegel planning Services from Portland, an experienced downtown planning company, to help with the project.

MacKenzie, city staff and a group of volunteers started the project last spring with a walking tour of downtown. This was followed by a series of meetings, hearings and chats with anyone interested about what should be done. 

A poker-chip vote at one meeting a few months ago attended by fairly large group of citizens favored a plan to narrow the number of lanes on Main Street from four to three, widen sidewalks to allow more room for restaurants to put up tables and host social gatherings. 

Voters also liked a recommendation to beautify the end of Main Street near the river and to create a “gateway” with an arch or other improvements at the other end near the railroad tracks.

The estimated cost of these projects ranged from $500,000 to more than $4 million. The method of paying for the improvements was not decided but could include fund raising, a special improvement tax district or a bond paid by Pendleton taxpayers.

The planning commission task Thursday night was to take public testimony and then vote on which plan recommendations should be passed along to the city council for its consideration and approval. The end result would be to incorporate the designated guidelines into the city’s comprehensive plan as a road map for future development.

Basically, Main Street merchants loudly and clearly told commission members to stop the train because they wanted off.

The Pendleton Chamber supported the merchants, citing a petition that contained some 170 names, including most downtown merchants. Chamber President Kathleen Flanagan asked the commissioners to delay taking action until this new feedback could be taken into consideration.

Commissioners took the right action in postponing their final discussion and vote until June 14. They asked Mackenzie to work with the downtown merchants, consultants, volunteers who have been involved with the planning during the past year and anyone else from the public who is interested to propose changes to the plan.

Downtown merchants at the meeting all pledged to be a part of the process.

Clearly, one major change in the recommendations should be to leave the city street at four lanes and the sidewalks alone. Also, don’t do anything to reduce Main Street parking.

But this does not mean that other suggestions for improving the downtown, including the riverfront and railroad track entrances, should not be adopted.

Everyone involved has the same goal of making Pendleton’s downtown vibrant, full of people and supporting successful shopping and entertainment.

Dean Fouquette, owner of Pendleton Athletic, 240 S. Main, told the commissioners there was one very good outcome from the current plan and last Thursday’s hearing.

“The best part of the plan is it has brought the downtown merchants together,” he said. 

“We can make it work,” he told the commissioners. He praised MacKenzie’s efforts and volunteered to sign on with any group taking another look at the plans.

Let that work begin.

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