CENTRALIA - Despite two petitions and vocal opposition at three City of Centralia meetings, the City Council on Tuesday voted to vacate and sell portions of three streets around Centralia College to the school for safety and growth reasons.
The first reading of the ordinance was approved 6-1, with only Councilor Dan Henderson voting against it.
About 15 people testified on the matter, resulting in 2-to-1 support for vacating and selling Washington Avenue, from Pear Street to Centralia College Boulevard; Walnut Street, between Washington Avenue and King Street; and Rock Street, from Walnut Street to Centralia College Boulevard.
The Centralia Planning Commission in May recommended approval following these conditions:
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• The college pays the city $182,000 to be put toward installation of a traffic signal at Yew and Main streets to ease traffic increased by other street closures.
• Washington Avenue remains open to traffic until the traffic signal is installed.
• Sixty-foot-wide utility easements and 26-foot-wide fire access are built for the streets.
• Washington Avenue and Walnut Street stay open for the next three years as the college works with the city on a traffic flow plan.
Overall, Centralia College would contribute about $300,000 to the projects.
The entire cost of the traffic signal at Yew and Main is estimated to be about $700,000.
The utility easements, the city said, would prevent the school from building into the streets, as one opponent of the sale had suspected.
“Student safety: smoke screen,” said Dave Reynoldson, a petitioner opposed to the sale of those streets and who wore a T-shirt to the council meeting that read: “Centralia where are we going? Why are we in a hand basket?”
Reynoldson pointed out to the City Council that about three-fifths of the faculty and staff members employed by Centralia College don’t live in the city and opened a city map that he dropped on a hearing table: “You don’t represent that little block.”
Councilor Henderson said he couldn’t ignore his constituency, which lives in the area surrounding the school and is opposed to the street sale.
However, other councilors said Centralia College is a source of pride and economic growth within the community and that their support for vacating the streets is in the best interest of the city.
The closure of Washington Avenue was the point of major contention, with most opponents noting it’s one of few north-south corridors in the city.
However, Councilor Lee Coumbs, who also works at Centralia College, said the traffic estimates of 2,200 vehicles a day on Washington Avenue do not come close to holding up in summer after classes have ended: “The thought that there are 2,000 Centralia residents using Washington Avenue is not true.”