Closure of Coupeville’s Front Street curbed by opposition to proposal

Coupeville leaders are no longer considering closing Front Street to traffic.

Mayor Molly Hughes announced during a teleconferenced town council meeting Tuesday, June 9 that many businesses were opposed to the closure.

Hughes blamed newspaper coverage of the issue for the failed plan.

Specifically, Hughes cited a Whidbey News-Times front page article from May 30 about the proposed closure, saying the story made it seem like the closure was “a done deal,” and several business owners were “irritated” when they read about the possible shutdown in the local newspaper before she had a chance to talk to them.

The News-Times article was based on discussions by the mayor and council at the end of May during a teleconferenced public meeting.

Hughes said the proposed closure was a big enough change that would have been better served by meeting in person to discuss it, which hasn’t been allowed due to COVID safety regulations.

“Ideally, it would have been nice for all of the businesses to gather in a public meeting and any interested residents that wanted to come and listen and give their two cents,” Hughes said during the town council’s public meeting.

Councilwoman Jackie Henderson said she hadn’t spoken with any of the business owners, but that the community members she had talked to were excited about the idea of the street closure when they heard about it.

“In all my years on the council I have never had more community members tell me how disappointed they are that we’re not going to try the closure,” Henderson said.

A letter to the editor written by Coupeville resident Claire Vorauer in the June 10 issue of the News-Times said just that.

“Just think how wonderful it would be to have restaurants and stores move out onto Front Street so shoppers and diners would feel safe to enjoy the charm of Coupeville while being able to keep safe social distancing,” Vorauer said in her letter.

“Those against the proposal cited a loss of 20 parking spots during the closure,” Vorauer added. “It seems to me folks figure out how to get into town and park during Musselfest or during the arts and crafts festival.”

When she first polled business owners, Hughes said an estimated 52 percent wanted to do the Front Street closure, but 48 percent did not.

“It just wasn’t a big enough majority for all the work that would have entailed for the town and our police officers,” Hughes said.

When asked about closing the street to one-way traffic instead of completely shutting it down, Hughes reported that 44 percent were in favor, but 56 percent were not.

Because of the outcry from some of the downtown business owners, the mayor said she decided to take the proposal completely off the table, saying that they are already dealing with enough stress while trying to safely reopen.