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Cascade Village at the heart of new Benson Hill Community Plan
Back before it was part of the City of Renton, the Cascade Village shopping center served a geographic and commercial center for the Benson Hill neighborhood and a new plan from the city hopes to recreate that experience for the neighborhood.
"People remember that, they know it and they want it to be that again," said Senior Planner Erika Conkling.
The new Benson Hill Community Plan, to be presented to the City Council Monday, calls for creating a community heart and focus in the neighborhood and because of its centralized location, Cascade Village is at the middle of the discussion.
"We're focusing a lot on Cascade Village because it's traditionally been that community heart," Conkling said.
Work on the Benson Hill Community Plan began more than a year ago and while it is taking longer than expected to complete, Conkling said that is because of an extensive outreach effort in the community, which has a high percentage of the population for whom English is not their native language.
The Benson Hill neighborhood covered in the community plan, designed to try to fill in the local-level details on city-wide planning documents, includes more than four square miles of land on the south side of Renton. More than two-thirds of the area annexed into the city in 2007. It includes 12 recognized neighborhoods, seven schools and two major commercial centers.
With more than 22,000 residents, the Benson Hill community makes up nearly a quarter of the city's population. The area is extremely diverse and includes a large population of those born outside the United States.
The community, however, lacks "focused activity" according to the report and is more of a collection of disjointed neighborhoods at this point, lacking a "unified identity."
The area also has been identified in the city parks plan as needing a park and community center in the central or southern part of the area.
The city began work on the community plan by holding multiple outreach events and going to neighborhood picnics to ask residents what they would change in their neighborhoods if they could.
According to Conkling, residents would like to see economic development, increased parks and recreation and street improvements. All of those concerns have been worked into the draft plan currently available for review.
The plan includes four major recommendations. The first is the creation of a community focus, which is where the Cascade Village may come in. Once a thriving commercial center, much of the plaza is empty today, with all of the major anchor stores empty, including a bowling alley.
The city is considering using land in the plaza for things like a dog park or community garden, as short-term fixes, and potentially even looking into buying land for a community center of some sort.
Secondly, the plan calls for more multi-modal transportation, specifically walking, biking and transit routes. The primary recommendation calls for 116th Avenue Southeast to be made a "complete street" and central spine or "jewel pathway" of Benson Hill.
"116th is really the only true north/south connector of the neighborhood," Conkling said.
The plan looks to add lanes, bike lanes, landscaping and transit pullouts for the extent of the roadway, which presently has inconsistencies due to developing in a piecemeal process.
Conkling said the city also heard a lot about the area's informal network of trails, which exist primarily through utility and other easements. The trails link many parts of the region, but lack connectors between them. Conkling said there is a planned expansion of of city trails as well as supporting the existing network.
The plan's third recommendation is to improve access and quality of parks int he area. While the city discourages private parks, Benson Hill was developed mostly in the county and there are several small, private and homeowners association parks, but no large centralized facility.
Finally, focusing on quality of life, the plan recommends an emphasis on improving the sense of safety in the neighborhood through forging increased connections with police and continuing to try and link various community groups and organizations together.
The plan is still considered an early draft and a public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to gain further public input and to make sure the city is on the right path, according to resident concerns, said Conkling.
"The public is going to have a chance to prioritize what's most important to them," Conkling said, adding, "Right now these are as rough draft as they get."
A second draft of the plan is expected this summer with adoption by the fall.
Residents looking to read or comment on the plan can visit www.bensonplan.org or attend a public meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Renton Park Elementary Cafeteria, 16828 128th Ave. SE.