When the Cannery development came to a council vote in the late fall of 2013, the final vote was 3-2 for approval, with Brett Lee and Joe Krovoza casting the dissenting votes.
Writing in 2015 in the wake of a new controversy involving the Cannery, Joe Krovoza would say: “In all of this, my biggest issue was no secret. I wanted firm, firm guarantees of high-quality, grade separated bike and pedestrian crossings at the SE and SW corners of the project.”
The SE crossing would never occur of course, but he wrote, “A SW crossing would connect to Community Park, the library and schools, and all points southwest. I raised this issue at every Council meeting that addressed Cannery.”
He added, “When the DA [Development Agreement] came out in the November 19, 2013 staff report, the guarantees for two good, grade separated bike and pedestrian crossings seemed very weak.”
He argued that the “staff report and DA didn’t guarantee good crossings. I saw this as backpedaling. Even with at least $11 million in transportation dollars from the DA and traffic impact funds, fingers were still being crossed that we’d have quality grade separated crossings for bikes and peds across Covell.
“Thus, at the November 19 meeting, I sought more dollars in the DA to guarantee both crossings, and a commitment that the poor alternative at the SW would be removed as an option. The council majority for the project didn’t adopt my request, and the Cannery development was approved 3-2. Brett Lee and I were the dissenting votes.”
The history of the Cannery seems fairly unfortunate. We had the initial 3-2 vote, we later had a 3-2 vote approving a CFD (Community Facilities District) after the fact, we have had numerous proposals for revisions and walking back of many of those proposals, and now here we have five and a half years after the approval of the Development Agreement on that day in November 2013, and the council has had to terminate the contract for the building of the grade separated bike crossing.
This has never seemed to have run smoothly. Back in 2014, candidate Robb Davis expressed his concerns about the connectivity issues during a candidates forum. At the time, a concern was that the city lacked permission from the owners of the Cranbrook Apartments to do what was considered at that time to be the preferred route.
Others pushed for the H Street connection. As Alan Miller wrote in May 2016, “The H Street tunnel connection would allow bicyclists and student traffic to access the East-West path that leads directly to Davis elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as downtown. The exposure to auto traffic in the daily student commute would have been greatly diminished.”
To put this into perspective: The city has had three city managers since the November 2013 vote as the city manager at that time was Steve Pinkerton, and only Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs remain from the council that voted that day.
It seems a bit ironic that while Joe Krovoza was insisting on two grade separated crossing for bikes and pedestrians, as it turns out one is proving to be more difficult than it should be.
Where are we now? Many citizens will be inclined to state here we go again – although it is difficult to see how these problems were foreseeable unless it can be shown that somehow the company, Northern Pacific Corporation, had a track record that would have called into question the ability of them to complete this project in a timely matter.
This has been a rough year as well for traffic impacts. While we have focused on Mace Boulevard, construction on L Street and the closures on Covell have had their own impacts on traffic.
The good news at this point is that traffic on Covell is flowing with all four lanes open – had the work been terminated a month or so ago, the impact would be much greater.
From a fiscal standpoint, the city is well protected. This project was completed using developer money, not city general fund money. The city is indemnified against costs from delays and cancellation.
There have been and remain safety concerns that led to the need for the crossing in the first place. In that respect, the delays from when the project should have been completed – January 28, 2018 – to now, and whatever extra delays now have to take place before the project can be completed, add to those problems.
The city really had no choice here. As they note in the May 3 letter, “NPC has effectively abandoned timely performance of the Project, and is approximately 85 calendar days behind schedule in completion of the work on the Project.”
The city had “previously notified NPC on several occasions that it is behind schedule.”
This is not the project that the city wanted to be way behind schedule on, with impacts on Covell and with community members complaining.
What went wrong? Granted that this is a highly unusual action to actually terminate a contract of this magnitude for lack of completion, it seems like the city owes itself and the public an answer as to what went wrong here and a better understanding of how such problems can be avoided in the future.
Along the same lines, I would like to better understand why the city has seemingly had so many problems with this one development. Understand that the Cannery project was being discussed in 2006 when the Vanguard first started, and here we are, 13 years later, and we are still discussing it, now nearly six years after it was finally approved.
I think the community deserves an answer as to why that is, as well.
—David M. Greenwald reporting