Temporary no-parking signs mark an area along West First Street in downtown Port Angeles on Wednesday where crews have removed trees to repair buckled sidewalks. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Temporary no-parking signs mark an area along West First Street in downtown Port Angeles on Wednesday where crews have removed trees to repair buckled sidewalks. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles tree project to be on hold Friday

PORT ANGELES — Downtown holiday shoppers will have unobstructed access to Port Angeles businesses Friday on one of the busiest gift-buying days of the year while work is halted on a tree replacement project that has upset downtown entrepreneurs.

The contractor had already scheduled Friday as an off-day, Public Works and Utilities Director Craig Fulton said Wednesday.

What began in early November as an unwelcome surprise to entrepreneurs has obstructed sidewalks, removed curbside parking spaces and sparked concerns over a communication lapse between business owners and city officials, this one during the do-or-die holiday shopping season.

After today’s respite, access to four to 12 parking spaces will continue to be restricted to make way for large project-related vehicles from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays again, beginning Monday and extending through Dec. 9, if not sooner, Fulton said Wednesday.

“It’s proceeding much sooner than expected, and we could finish earlier,” Fulton said.

Fulton said the downtown has 268 curbside parking spaces.

Interwest Construction Inc. of Bellingham is heading the $119,490 project to replace 38 trees that city officials said are buckling sidewalks and creating safety hazards on the north and south sides of First Street from Cherry Street to Lincoln Street and the west side of Lincoln Street from First Street to Railroad Avenue.

Downtown entrepreneurs were not notified individually in early November that the maximum 25-day project would commence a few weeks before Thanksgiving, when shoppers begin emptying their wallets for the holidays.

Young Johnson, president of the Port Angeles Downtown Association board, said that the city sent an Oct. 25 email to her private business but since it was not sent to the downtown association’s email address, she did not see it, and thus did not notify merchants.

The project’s start-up also disrupted annual plans by the Port Angeles Business Association and Olympic Kiwanis Club to festoon downtown trees with holiday lights.

Donita Henke, owner of Baby Grand Home Decor at 106 E. First St., said Wednesday that on Tuesday, curbside parking was eliminated in front of her business and that a portion of the sidewalk was closed for several hours while no work was done on it.

She felt shut off from shoppers for no reason.

“We had no idea this was happening,” Henke said of the project.

This November is slower than most, she added.

“I depend on making a good profit over my Christmases, which is all of November and December.”

The sidewalk should have remained open, Fulton said.

“We corrected it when the downtown merchants brought it to our attention,” he said.

Johnson told Peninsula Daily News on Nov. 11 that she was “deluged” with calls from entrepreneurs about the holiday-light-display delay.

Business owners are “very understanding” after they are told why the trees are being replaced, Young added.

The city, she added, “could have picked a better time to do this, but what’s done is done.”

Fulton said the city wanted to initiate the project in October to avoid holiday season complications but was held up by nailing down work schedules and devising a traffic plan.

Fulton said October-November, when it’s rainy and cool, is best for planting trees.

Paperwork delays in finalizing the contract schedule pushed the project past October, he said.

Alan Turner, owner of Port Book and News at 104 E. First St., next door to Baby Grand, said Wednesday he did not sense a slowdown in business due to the project.

He said customers complained about it — but more out of concern over the project’s impact on small businesses like his.

Jake Oppelt, owner of Next Door Gastropub less than a block away at 113 W. First St., said his business has not been affected by the project.

Oppelt was more concerned about the process of notification. He felt that notification should have been made to individual merchants rather than through the downtown association.

People were “in an uproar” because they didn’t know what was going on, he said.

“There was just a lack of communication from the city, from the contractor, to the business owners.”

Earlier this year, Public Works was criticized at a City Council meeting for not letting businesses at the corner of Second and Lincoln streets know they were losing parking spaces to make the corner safer.

“We have to look at all the various opportunities to communicate schedules and projects in the downtown area,” Fulton pledged Wednesday.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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