A long-awaited plan to remake downtown Merriam is moving forward but without any changes to a key two-block stretch of Merriam Drive.
Mayor Bob Pape cast the tie-breaking vote last week on a motion to leave Merriam Drive between Hocker Drive and Johnson Drive untouched as part of a broader plan to make downtown more walkable and safer for bikers and pedestrians.
The original concept called for decreasing lanes on the busy roadway from three down to two, but that idea garnered pushback from some downtown business owners who feared cutting lanes could create more congestion.
Some distinctive elements dropped from plan
- Proposed changes north of Hocker Drive going to 55th Street will still be completed, including widening sidewalks, adding new angled parking spots and putting up a pedestrian plaza in front of Merriam Marketplace.
- But there will now be no elevated crosswalk over Merriam Drive just north of 58th Terrace, no widened sidewalks and no parking switches from the west to the east side of Merriam Drive in the two blocks leading up to Johnson Drive.
- The council’s vote last week also means for the time being there will be no gateway arch over Merriam Drive at Johnson Drive.
Businesses still objected to revised downtown plan
- After a public meeting earlier this month, the city attempted to tweak the plan to meet some business owners’ concerns, but several still expressed reservations.
- Rick Williams, owner of RC Williams Co., which sells musical instrument accessories at a storefront on 58th Terrace just off Merriam Drive, said he thought the redesign would still cause “instant gridlock.”
- Anton Krutz of KC Strings, 5842 Merriam Dr., voiced concerns about a proposal to take away public parking spots on the west side of the street where his shop is.
- Krutz said that could be construed as “retaliation, retribution and reprisal” for business owners like himself who spoke out against the project.
- Councilmember Jason Silvers responded, saying the idea to eliminate some parking spots wasn’t done as retribution but rather was the council’s attempt to “accommodate multiple groups.”
City council split 4-4 and mayor broke tie
- Ultimately, Councilmember Bruce Kaldahl brought forward a motion to not spend any project funds on any work on Merriam Drive between Hocker and Johnson Drive.
- Kaldahl and Councilmember Chris Evans Hands both said downtown businesses made it clear they didn’t want the city to change that stretch of Merriam Drive.
- “I’m hating it, because I really wanted this to be pretty, walkable, safer, friendlier, more welcoming, up to date, all of those things,” Hands said.
- Kaldahl and Evans Hands, along with Councilmembers David Neal and Jason Silvers voted for the motion to keep that stretch of Merriam Drive untouched.
- Councilmembers Staci Chivetta, Jacob Laha, Amy Rider and Whitney Yadrich voted against it.
- Mayor Bob Pape cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of making no changes to that two-block portion of Merriam Drive — but he added that something could be done at a later date.