For a moment there, it looked as though the City of Albany was making progress in opening up, for public use, sections of the Vine Street right-of-way alongside the Santiam Canal.
But as it turned out, only a small section of the eastern Vine Street right-of-way (ROW) south of Sixth Avenue was involved.
The canal runs down the middle of the Vine Street right-of-way from 12th Avenue to Third. Some parts of the street are open on both sides of the canal. On others, the street is not developed. And on some of those, neighbors have utilized the unused right-of way for things like landscaping, outbuildings, or storage.
Some 20 or more years ago, people working on Albany’s downtown urban renewal plan had the vision of turning the canal into an attraction by making Vine Street into some kind of “esplanade.” This would have meant opening up both sides of the street. But leaders in city government never followed up, and the idea was forgotten.
Vine Street came up a year ago when a property owner asked to put a gate on the eastern right-of-way at Sixth Avenue to protect personal property stored there. The city staff was ready to allow it with a “license to occupy,” but the council said no because it didn’t want any permanent obstructions in the right-of-way.
The city staff followed up on the council’s wishes last spring, sending out letters that gave property owners until the end of September to remove any encroachments in the right-of-way.
In the weeks that followed, though, one or more owners talked to the council as a whole or to individual members. The upshot was that the September deadline was pretty much forgotten. The city has not insisted that all obstructions be removed.
Last Friday, a city crew showed up on Sixth Avenue with heavy equipment. A neighbor let me know, and I asked Kristin Preston, the operations manager in Albany Public Works, what the plan there was.
“The street maintenance crew put some gravel down because it was getting too muddy on that section of ROW,” she told me. “That was the extent of the work.”
This section of Vine Street now has a layer of gravel, and that’s it. At the south end of the block, on Seventh, the section on Sunday remained blocked by a parked pickup and trailer.
Public Works Director Chris Bailey has said the undeveloped right-of-way needs to be clear to give city crews access for canal maintenance. For the public, complete access on both sides of the canal is no big deal since the “esplanade” idea is dead.
If people want to walk along the canal, gazing at the water through the chain link fence or over the barbed wire, they can do so on the other side if one side is blocked.
And because the cross streets are so close together, for cyclists even an unobstructed Vine Street would not make for an ideal route. (hh)