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Fate of the Crestview Gate could be decided today

Thursday, June 9, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

A decadelong debate over a notorious gate in the Crestview neighborhood is likely to reach its conclusion today, with City Council set to vote on a zoning change that would get rid of the gate at Easy Wind Drive and Morrow Street once and for all. 

In 2011, the Crestview Neighborhood Association pushed to add the gate in order to restrict vehicle access to Morrow Street from Crestview Station, a new transit-oriented development. Council enshrined the gate into the neighborhood’s TOD zoning ordinance that year.

Fast-forward a decade, and Council reversed course. In September 2021, after vandalism and neighborhood complaints, Council decided to study what would happen if the gate was removed. Vandalism had made the gate’s upkeep expensive; in 2021 alone, it cost $15,000 to maintain, according to the Public Works Department. 

Following a three-month study that showed traffic safety metrics with and without the gate, the Transportation Department said in January that the gate posed no significant safety risks and that traffic, despite an initial spike, calmed to manageable levels. Traffic engineers also found that vehicle speeds remained within a safe range for a neighborhood street.

“ATD generally does not support restricting or closing public streets when such measures do not improve safety or mobility for the greater public,” Rob Spillar, former ATD director, wrote in a January memo

ATD’s findings prompted Council to vote unanimously in February to remove the clause in the zoning ordinance.

On May 24, the Planning Commission was charged with evaluating the zoning change, and the discussion highlighted the gate’s ongoing controversy. Several neighbors spoke in opposition to removing the gate, and commissioners were of split opinion.

The neighbors who spoke at the commission meeting argued that allowing vehicle traffic through the neighborhood makes streets less safe, goes against TOD zoning’s goal of encouraging non-car transportation and encourages “cut-through” traffic on Morrow.

“Why are we considering allowing for more vehicular traffic? How exactly will that encourage public transit and pedestrian use?” Helen Kelley-Bass said. Another neighbor, Andrew Crawford, criticized ATD’s study as car-centric. “We didn’t study the impact to pedestrians and bicyclists. We did study cars,” Crawford said.

Following resident testimony, Commissioner Grayson Cox argued that disregarding the zoning ordinance – and neighbors’ hard work negotiating over it – would cause residents to distrust the city and encourage them to oppose any future zoning changes. “Guess what – if we blow this up, what is the point of them even engaging in the process?” Cox said.

“I also hear Commissioner Cox’s frustration on overturning a decision that had been made before,” Commissioner Awais Azhar said, “but I also want to say if we cannot reconsider decisions made 10 years ago, then I think we have stagnant policy and we will not be able to address the current issues.”

Commissioner Jeff Thompson argued that streets should not be de facto privatized. “When I hear words like cut-through traffic, I hear in my mind, ‘I want to privatize this street. I want to gate my neighborhood and keep the public out of my street.’ But it’s not your street, it’s a public street,” Thompson said. 

A motion by Azhar to recommend the zoning change failed 4-5, with commissioners Todd Shaw, Carmen Llanes Pulido, Rob Schneider and Solveij Rosa Praxis joining Cox in dissent. A motion by Cox to recommend denying the zoning change also failed, 3-4-2, with Cox, Llanes Pulido, and Praxis in favor and Shaw and Schneider abstaining. 

Based on Council’s unanimous vote in February to initiate the zoning change, the fate of the gate looks all but sealed.

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