Council cites uncertainty about level of support
A proposal to temporarily close the north end of Glover Street to vehicle traffic as a stimulus to businesses on that block has been tabled by the Twisp Town Council because of questions about support for the idea.
The proposal first came to the council’s attention by way of a memo, dated July 6, which read, “We, the businesses between Twisp Avenue and Second Avenue on Glover Street (“North Glover Street”), join together to ask the Town for support in creating a temporary North Glover Street Parklet/Plaza, whereby the aforementioned section of Glover Street would be closed off to vehicles.”
The memo said that with businesses operating at reduced capacity, if at all, under the state’s COVID-19 countermeasures, creating a pedestrian mall could increase patronage for some owners and make the difference between whether they survive or not. According to the memo, “a provisional outdoor expansion of our businesses more easily adheres to the health and safety parameters set in place by Washington’s Safe Start Plan …”
The plaza would include outdoor tables and chairs and some landscaping, according to the memo, and would result in the loss of about 40 parking spaces on Glover Street. The memo asks for prompt action while there is still tourism traffic, and asks for the town to “meet us halfway in providing solutions” to issues that might make the closure challenging.
“We come to you with the hope that closing off a part of a street may open up an extremely beneficial avenue,” the memo said.
The memo concluded with a list of Glover Street businesses that “signed” the document.
However, some of those businesses responded negatively after the town staff contacted them about the idea, saying they did not “sign” the document and opposed the idea. Some businesses thought the proposal was coming from the town.
Several written comments read at week’s council meeting indicated that while there is some support for the proposal, it is far from unanimous.
Adam Custis, the owner of Linwood Restaurant, voiced his opposition in a written comment. He said he feared closing the street would actually increase the threat of the coronavirus if it drew large gatherings of visitors not wearing masks. Custis said that as a practical matter, closure would more likely hurt the restaurant.
Tina Houser, the owner of Sage Brush Beauty Shop, wrote that while listed as a signatory she was “unaware of the proposal,” and that many of her clients are senior citizens who would be inconvenienced by having to walk farther rather than park closer to her business.
Becky Studen, Mary Gray and Sarah Prochnau of Twisp Movement Studio said they were “surprised” when contacted about the proposal by town staff, although the business was listed as a signatory. “We were not contacted by the organizer of this proposal, did not ‘sign’ onto the proposal or give permission for our business name to be part of the proposal,” they said.
The owners of BJ’s Branding Iron and the El Valle Restaurant building wrote that “we are not in favor of this proposed plan nor did we sign any proposed letter stating otherwise.” They said loss of parking could negatively affect some of their clients who would have walk farther.
Luis Ortega of El Valle Restaurant said he did not want to see the street closed. William Tackman said, “I would have appreciated some direct communication from the town before you decide to close down the north end of Glover Street.”
However, Cindy Ruprecht, owner of Fiber, enthusiastically supported the proposal, which she said would create a space to enjoy downtown. And Glenn Schmekel, executive director of The Cove, said the food bank “is willing to support the local merchants in almost any way possible, including the street closing proposal.”
Katie Bristol, the owner of Cinnamon Twisp Bakery, wrote that she might support the proposal “as long as all affected businesses are in agreement and none of the surrounding businesses are negatively impacted.” She added that she would like to see more details.
At the council meeting, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the town’s survey of Glover Street business owners “brought out a lot of sentiments on both sides.”
Councilmember Hans Smith said he was surprised that the written responses were so different from the original memo. “I’m not sure what’s being asked of us by whom,” he said. “I can’t entertain this proposal as it’s presented.”
Colby Breed, representing Glover Street Market, which hopes to move some of its wine tastings outside, said he was surprised at some of the written comments because he had obtained an apparent agreement from several of the businesses. He asked for the town’s support in moving ahead with the proposal.
Smith said the proposal would need to be assessed with regard to its spillover effect on the rest of downtown. As to the written comments about lack of notice, Smith said “we were under the assumption that they [the business owners on Glover Street] were informed.”
Councilmember Hannah Cordes said she would like to have more information about how all the businesses on the street feel about the proposal. Councilmember Mark Easton said closing a block of Glover Street could cause disruption on “the avenues” intersecting with Glover Street, where parking would likely migrate. “We have to include everyone who would be affected,” he said.
Police Chief Paul Budrow said he had received a request from one of the supposed signatories to the original memo to press a forgery charge, but that he had not yet acted on that request. Budrow said he was told there were two or three signatories that had been approached about the proposal but did not sign on.
Ing-Moody said the uncertainty about support among Glover Street merchants “gives it a whole other gravity … there is some outrage there.”
Councilmember Aaron Studen said that, given what the council heard at the meeting, there doesn’t seem to be a substantial majority of Glover Street business owners in support of the proposal. Councilmember Alan Caswell said he didn’t see how the council could continue to discuss the proposal without more information.
Ing-Moody said she “doesn’t see the necessary support at this time,” and tabled the discussion until such time as the objecting business owners’ concerns were addressed.
In other business:
• The council approved designating $7,500 of the town’s anticipated $29,400 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to support the TwispWorks Small Business Emergency Grant program, which allots $1,500 grants local businesses to help them through the pandemic crisis. The grants can be used by businesses to pay rent, utilities and other fixed expenses, as well as helping them develop ways to become more resilient.
• The council finalized an agreement with the Methow Valley School District to jointly develop a sports complex near the Twisp Municipal Airport. The town has been developing plans for the park for a couple of years, with funding help from the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO). But construction bids twice exceeded the town’s budget for the project, which is to include a soccer field and baseball/softball fields. The school district committed to chip in $65,000 for the project so it could proceed. Work is expected to begin in 2021.