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Wallingford split over planning


Neighborhood planning is supposed to be an exercise that brings a community together. In Wallingford, residents are finding it can just as easily split it apart.

Last fall, the Wallingford Community Council launched efforts to create a neighborhood plan for South Wallingford, the area below North 40th Street, as a follow up to its district-wide neighborhood plan which was approved by the City Council in 1998.

The district-wide neighborhood plan focused on laying development guidelines for turning the area surrounding North 45th Street - Wallingford's main business drag - into an urban village. Last fall, the community council held a meeting to commence neighborhood planning efforts for South Wallingford - the portion of the district south of North 40th Street - after noting a flurry of real estate development projects that had been proposed for that area.

That's when the trouble started - at least, according to Genevieve Vayda.

Vayda, a resident of the South Wallingford/Fremont area for nearly two decades, attended the community council's Oct. 27 meeting, but noticed that South Wallingford residents seemed to be under-represented.

She also objected to the community council's timetable of coming up with a neighborhood plan for South Wallingford to present to the City by no later this spring. Past neighborhood plans have taken anywhere from one to three years to create, she noted. Why should a neighborhood plan for South Wallingford be any different?

Vayda said she believes residents who live south of North 40th Street should lead their own planning process - not the Wallingford Community Council.

"They're not letting us be heard, they're letting us be pawns," said Vayda. "We'd like an opportunity to plan our neighborhood as every other neighborhood has."

To that end, Vayda has formed a group of her own, the Southwest Wallingford Planning Group, which represents the area bordered by Wallingford Avenue, Stone Way, North 40th Street, and Lake Union. The group has more than 50 members, she said.

Wallingford Community Council board members have expressed concerns that Vayda's approach could result in weakening the community's clout in dealing with the City. They also warn that if they don't respond swiftly to the flood of development projects planned for South Wallingford, it could be too late to do anything about it.

"The developers will keep developing," said board member Karen Buschow. "As long as we don't have a coherent voice, the developers will have an advantage."

"Everyone in the Wallingford neighborhood cares about the plan and the issues," said Wallingford Community Council president Barbara Reine. "The issues transcend specific geography." She added that the community council "is the authorized steward of the neighborhood plan and we represent the entire community in this process. Our effectiveness in planning is improved with a single voice."

The community council has formed a steering committee to continue its planning efforts for South Wallingford. The group has also applied to the City for a $10,000 matching funds grant for outreach and planning.

While the community council says it has received positive comments from South Wallingford residents, Vayda's concerns have resonated with at least some of her neighbors.

David Ruggiero, a South Wallingford resident for the past 17 years, said he tried to get involved with the Wallingford Community Council a decade ago, but found the group at that time to be less than welcoming to newcomers. "They seemed like they had all their experts already," he said. "It seemed to be a very set-in-its-ways kind of organization."

Ruggiero credits Vayda's grassroots efforts with rekindling his interest in getting involved with his community. "(Her approach) was a person-to-person kind of thing," he said. "It was just the idea that somebody cared enough to to do this, to come door to door."

Vayda said her group isn't going to go away. "Chances are we may just have to attend en masse every (Wallingford Community Council) board meeting," she said.

The City recently brought in a facilitator to try to resolve the growing conflict between the Wallingford Community Council and Vayda's group.

After a tense meeting with the two organizations on Feb. 13, the facilitator, Mickey Fearn, told Vayda's group that the City might be willing to help fund their planning efforts, but said the funds would need to be used to find solutions, not to divide the neighborhood. "I can only use Neighborhood Leadership money to plan a seamless community," he said.

Vayda said: "(Community planning) is about neighborhood empowerment. It's about working together to build community."

The Wallingford Community Council's next South Wallingford planning meeting will be on Wednesday, March 20, 7 p.m. at Hamilton Middle School. For details, contact Karen Buschow at 632-0461. The Southwest Wallingford Planning Group's next meeting will be on Monday, March 11, 7 p.m. For the meeting location and further inquires, contact Genevieve Vayda at 633-5009 or