I want my corner coffee shops, dammit! | Cascadia Daily News


Recently, a bill passed unanimously through the Washington House only to be struck down by Washington’s “progressive” Legislature. House Bill 2252, brought by Republican Mark Klicker of Walla Walla, was a bipartisan bill advocating for small businesses and neighborhoods and allowed the creation of commercial activities in residential zones.

Commercial activities were defined as “neighborhood cafes,” like Nelson’s in Bellingham’s York neighborhood or Irwin’s Neighborhood Bakery in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

The bill’s language is strict but welcoming, allowing cafes to essentially ignore minimum parking requirements, ban drive-thru services, exist on two-way streets, and be limited by the city on their hours of operation. The language within House Bill 2252 makes it clear that your residential street would not be hampered by loud construction and another burger chain, but instead by small, quiet cafes with local owners and employees.

With bipartisan support, lawmakers and community activists saw it as an opportunity to encourage walking and alternate transport over driving, bolstering owners’ property rights and bringing communities together.

On Feb. 20, after passing unanimously through the House, the bill experienced a slight setback. Writers modified the proposal to make the inclusion of neighborhood cafes “voluntary” instead of mandatory for cities. A not-inconsequential change and one that muted the bill, gutting owners and their communities of the right to create these corner shops and quiet cafes.

But the biggest metaphorical dagger aimed at House Bill 2252? The Association of Washington Cities (AWC). A nice sounding name for a group of NIMBYs who echoed several grave concerns that citizens brought to their legislators. One of those being the presumption that parking would be an issue. Need I remind them that local residential cafes and coffee houses aren’t for cars; they’re for communities?

Another set of concerns was alcohol sales within the neighborhood and the “ambiguous meaning of a ‘limited menu.’” I’m not sure what is so ambiguous about it other than the term being another buzzword for lobbyists to build their strawmen on.

Further evidence of how out-of-touch the AWC is to the needs of traditionally walkable communities is demonstrated by their lobbyist’s confusion about parking minimums and the exclusion of drive-thrus in the bill. AWC lobbyist Carl Schroeder argued that the two-parking-space minimum and the ban on drive-thru sales contradicted each other. Carl was, however, entirely lacking any thought of nuance toward the existence of dense, historic communities.

Their argument assumes the necessity of dedicated parking lots and drive-thrus when planning new establishments. However, these items and traditionally car-oriented infrastructure don’t have space or belong in neighborhoods like York. The ultimate lack of nuance in AWC’s arguments — and our lawmakers’ willingness to look past it themselves — brought about the bill’s eventual dismissal.

Scroll down the AWC’s Facebook page, past the numerous posts touting their lobbying efforts. You’ll see evidence of their priorities and what they deem “walkable cities.”

A picture of Leavenworth’s Front Street dots the page and touts it as a “vibrant pedestrian mall.” But is it? The small mountain town is overrun by tourists most weekends of the year, due in no small part to world-class hiking, rock climbing, skiing, angling and river sports close to its locale.

The Front Street pedestrian mall is vibrant on the weekends, letting tourists from Seattle, the Tri-Cities, and as far as Boise soak in the summer sun as they peruse the market and restaurants. However nice the mall is for weekend tourists, does it help the community during the week? Does the community live within a walkable distance to the mall? Or would a smaller, neighborhood-friendly cafe better suit their needs?

In Bellingham, if Nelson’s did not exist, where could locals walk to on sleepy Sunday mornings or to wind down in the evening? Could more of our neighborhoods enjoy amenities similar to those in York, where space-inefficient parking lots and car-first infrastructure can be omitted in favor of walkable places for area residents? Commercially zoned areas like Cordata and Guide-Meridian have a purpose in our cities and allow easy access to big box stores, but wouldn’t our communities also benefit from closer neighborhood activities and gathering areas?

I argue that the AWC is not for citizens’ property rights and community empowerment, but for the rights of local governments and boards determined to keep their foot heavy on the path of power and faux progress. want to spend my time and money locally, but do I have to drive there?

It is incredibly disappointing to see the bill fail in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and equally damning of our elected officials’ priorities. With the gutting and failure of House Bill 2252, it is even more important to protect and support local businesses like Nelson’s, ensuring they have a space and can grow within our communities far into the future.

Casey Griesemer lives in Bellingham with his fiancé and their dog, Bella. You can find him on Instagram @cgreaseman and authoring Greased Lightning on SubStack.

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