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Council puts brakes on two-way streets project

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - More than 100 people attended the Hillsboro City Council meeting Tuesday to hear the panel debate the hot button issue of converting some of downtowns streets from one-way to two-way, which drew public comments from 14 citizens. Carol Faber (inset) was the first to speak. Faber and co-petitioner Walt Hellman have sought the repeal of the conversion ordinance for more than one year. In an open letter to the community Sept. 24, Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey addressed the need for “clear consensus” before moving forward on a conversion of the city’s downtown streets from a one-way to a two-way grid.

At Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, Willey got what he wanted.

In a move that prompted a mixed response from the 100-plus people in attendance, the councilors unanimously voted in favor of repealing the conversion ordinance and shelving the project.

A final vote on the conversion will take place at the next city council meeting on Oct. 20.

After hearing the public comments of 14 attendees,councilors acknowledged the need for a decision that wouldn’t perpetuate division within the community.

“We all want the same thing,” councilor Darrell Lumaco said, referring to the need for a vibrant and thriving downtown scene. “We just don’t see eye-to-eye on how to get there.”

After reflecting on the number of emails he’d read on the matter, councilor Steve Callaway — who previously voted in favor of the conversion — decided to vote down the controversial project, which would have cost $2.5 million to $3 million, pointing out that the community was divided over the issue.

Hillsboro’s downtown streets have followed a one-way grid since 1968. But in 2009, the city council initiated the project to change them back to a two-way pattern.

To date, the city has spent just over $432,000 on surveying, planning and consultations, said city spokesman Patrick Preston.

“One email that struck me spoke of the contentiousness of the issue,” Callaway said. “There’s no consensus to follow through with the conversion.”

In his letter, Willey tackled the same problem.

“Hillsboro is a great city that does not need a well-intentioned traffic change to grow into a major point of division for our community and Council,” he wrote.

Before the meeting got under way, Willey asked for the discussion to remain respectful.

No booing, clapping or rude behavior would be tolerated, Willey said. “Some decorum is required.”

Nevertheless, during the public comments the enmity was palpable. Among the whispers and grumblings, some citizens touted the benefits of the conversion and others decried its potential drawbacks.

And while a handful held signs in support of Carol Faber and Walt Hellman’s committee to Restore One-Way Downtown Streets (ROWDS), there were plenty of others surprised the conversion was even being brought up for another vote, believing the conversion was a done deal.

“I’m surprised we’re here discussing it,” said Jeff Nelson, a Hillsboro resident and co-owner of Le’Stuff Antique Mall & Appraisals on Main Street.

“Do the petitioners own property downtown? I don’t think so,” Nelson continued. “Should they be allowed to derail a project we thought was finalized? I don’t think so.”

For the past year, Faber and Hellman — both Hillsboro residents — have fought the council and mayor’s original 4-3 vote in May 2014 to convert the streets.

In September, the pair started circulating a petition that sought the signatures of 6,669 registered Hillsboro voters to put the conversion question to a vote.

Those petitions were circulating at Tuesday’s meeting. However, after the first reading and initial vote, it appears as though Faber and Hellman’s work may be done.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Faber said after the vote. “We’ll come back to the next meeting, and if they vote to repeal the ordinance again, we’ll drop it.”