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Christina George

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Petition muddies Roseburg's $1 million downtown vision

Marty Verberkmoes has lived his entire 64 years in Roseburg and has seen a lot of changes to downtown. The city’s pending million-dollar project strikes the retired wildlands firefighting contractor as the worst changes yet.

A plan to add back-in angled parking, slow traffic with raised intersections and narrow some streets from two lanes to one lane motivated him to circulate a petition. The petition states the alterations will hurt businesses and make the city less liveable. He collected 76 signatures from downtown merchants and professionals and turned the petition in to the Roseburg City Council on Monday.

“This thing is kind of being rushed by city management, and they haven’t got the downtown’s point of view,” Verberkmoes said. “The downtown merchants are expressing a lot of dissatisfaction with this plan. ... I just want to get more people involved, because the more opinions rendered, the better the outcome would be.”

The city’s goal is to improve appearances and make downtown more accessible for recreational vehicles, bicyclists and people with disabilities. The money will come from the urban renewal agency fund, from which the city borrows and pays back with revenue from rising property values.

City staff members hope construction will be finished before the Oregon Department of Transportation begins a $12 million overhaul of the Highway 138 corridor between Interstate 5 and Diamond Lake Boulevard next year.

The city started working on the plan in March 2013. It created a citizens advisory committee to help with design elements. The back-in angled parking was suggested by a committee member.

The plans were reviewed by the Public Works Commission and then forwarded to the City Council for final approval. Councilors have talked about the project at several meetings, including at a special meeting in March they scheduled to re-discuss the back-in angled parking idea.

There was no immediate reaction by the council after Verberkmoes made his case at Monday’s meeting.

Verberkmoes said the current street layout seems motorist friendly, while the city’s plan is confusing.

According to the petition, back-in angled parking will be difficult and will send exhaust fumes toward pedestrians on sidewalks.

The petition further charges: The raised street intersections will irritate would-be customers with “annoying up and downs” on four major intersections, two new mid-block crosswalks will be unnecessary distractions to motorists and narrowing streets to one lane will increase congestion and slow emergency response.

Mayor Larry Rich said Wednesday he hadn’t reviewed the petition, and he hadn’t heard from the eight councilors about whether to make it a future agenda item.

Byron Frazer, owner of Garden Valley Realty and Frazer Resale in the 800 block of Southeast Cass Avenue, signed the petition. His business is one block south of where the city is considering installing back-in angled parking, but he says it’s close enough to deter customers from visiting.

“I don’t think they will come down here if they have to do some wacky parking,” Frazer said.

Councilors have so far approved more than $100,000 for engineering and planning. They OK’d in January a preliminary design, which included narrowing Southeast Oak and Southeast Washington avenues between Stephens and Kane streets and removing parallel parking to provide space for angled parking and bicycle lanes.

Head-in angled parking in front of the post office on Kane Street was to also change to back-in angled parking. But councilors revisited the issue after finding themselves in disagreement over back-in angled parking. They nixed plans to install back-in angled parking at the post office, however, indicated support for a one-year test of back-in parking on Washington and Oak avenues.

The city is awaiting the completion of a $13,230 traffic study on narrowing the avenues before it makes a final decision. Public Works Director Nikki Messenger said she expects to have the final report this week.

Back-in angled parking is the change that’s been raised repeatedly since the council started looking at the project. Many have said it’s too difficult for motorists and will stop people from visiting downtown.

“There’s a lot of us old geezers around who can’t back-in park,” said Walter Clemons, 82. “It’s not safe.”

Clemons was the first person to sign Verberkmoes’ petition. He owned Clemons Boot Co. in the 400 block of Southeast Main Street before handing it over to his son, William Clemons.

Verberkmoes said he began canvassing downtown four weeks ago and that three of every four business owners he approached signed the petition. The petition included room for brief comments. Typical comments included “stop this mess,” “leave us alone,” “stop, there are better ways to use the money” and “backing in? Really? Get rid of meters.”

Not all merchants who signed the petition said they oppose all aspects of the project.

K.C. McKillip, owner of Black Pearl, an asphalt maintenance business in the 900 block of Southeast Oak Avenue, said he supports the raised intersections because they would slow traffic.

But he said he doesn’t like back-in angled parking because it will be difficult, if not impossible, for larger vehicles and trucks pulling a construction trailer. “Those kinds of vehicles wouldn’t have a spot to park,” he said.

McKillip said he believes there is already a heavy flow of traffic that will only worsen if the two avenues are narrowed to one lane. He said he doesn’t think the improvements will draw more people downtown.

“It works how it is now, and I don’t think it can get any better,” he said.

Frazer said he believes the street changes will confuse motorists.

“I am happy they are wanting to improve downtown,” he said. “But they need to be cautious about how what they are doing will impact us downtown.”

•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at cgeorge@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated May 4, 2014 12:28AM Published May 6, 2014 09:59AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.