By Terri Harber
Baker City Councilors on Tuesday asked that Court Street be closed off to vehicle traffic between Main and Resort streets.
They came to this decision after talking about what happened during the Resort Street project open house on Monday.
Court is within the ?-mile section of Resort scheduled for reconstruction and other improvements.
Terry Schumacher, a former councilor and recent council candidate, asked if Court Street Plaza would be part of the Resort project or if the two projects were going to be under construction at the same time.
"We haven't said we were going to have a park here," said Mayor Dennis Dorrah. "Let's bite the bullet and close that street off."
Efforts to obtain grants to pay for Court Street Plaza haven't been fruitful so far. Michelle Owen, the city's public works director, suggested the closure could be designed so the plaza area could be used as a parking lot until a grant is secured.
The idea would be to run the Resort Street curb and sidewalk across Court rather than keeping it open so vehicles could enter and exit.
The intersection of Court and Main couldn't be treated the same way because of budgetary constraints, said City Manager Mike Kee.
The city's Christmas Tree currently blocks traffic from entering Court between Main and Resort.
Running the curb across the Resort side also would allow it to be part of the Resort improvement design and eligible for those state gasoline tax funds.
Dorrah suggested enlisting local service groups and other volunteers to help get the plaza work started.
In 2009, the councilors approved a plan to convert that same one-block section of Court between Main and Resort streets into a pedestrian courtyard. Court Street Plaza was to serve as a pedestrian gateway to Central Park, which is east of Resort Street.
The vote Tuesday was 6 to 1 to close the street. Councilor Beverly Calder made the lone opposing vote. She said closing a street should be subject to public comment first.
"We had the comment" necessary before approving the Court Street Plaza plan, Dorrah said.
Kee said Wednesday the councilors could close the street without further action.
Schumacher also asked how accessibility to Resort Street businesses would be maintained during construction.
The contractors are required to allow access to properties during construction, Owen said.
Other topics discussed pertaining to the Resort Street project included tree wells, intersection lighting and how to best place large trash bins along the street, such as whether to put them behind a screen.
The Resort Street project is expected to cost $3.3 million and on track to be complete in fall 2013.
Residents can still comment on it. Contact Owen for details at 541-523-6541.
Four of the seven councilors participated in their last meeting on Tuesday: Calder, Sam Bass, Aletha Bonebrake and Milo Pope.
They were recognized for their efforts and good work with recognition plaques. Each said something positive and complimentary about the experience.
Calder said the first four years were "really hard" but that the last two "were really incredible."
Bonebrake said she enjoyed working with everyone on the council and that her time spent serving the public was an "honor."
Bass also was happy with his eight years on the council and said he worked hard to treat everyone, including city staff, "with respect."
However, the statement that received the most laughs came from Pope and was directed to Dorrah as the mayor handed Pope his plaque: "The irony of this moment is not lost on you."
Pope ran unsuccessfully in November for a second term. And he was among those who supported the failed recall effort against Dorrah and Calder after the firing of former City Manager Steve Brocato in 2009.
Pope also complimented the staff, said he was happy about what the councilors were able to accomplish, and urged the incoming councilors to make an effort to be more "communicative with one another."
Each of the four incoming councilors also spoke briefly and expressed their excitement about serving the community.
They are Mike Downing, Barbara Johnson, Richard Langrell and Kim Mosier.
The first regular meeting of the Baker City Council in 2013 will be on Jan. 8, when they will be sworn in.