Proctor’s bike-rack bureaucracy tests patience of local Boy Scout

Staff writerMay 21, 2013 

Zach Ouellette of Tacoma was 16 years old two summers ago, working at the Proctor District Farmers Market with his mother, a market regular known as Cheryl the Pig Lady.

“My mother suggested a second bike rack, because the one we had was always full,” Zach said.

That was how it began.

Zach, a Boy Scout, raised nearly $1,000 and helped design and build a pair of bike racks with the help of a Proctor architect.

A local merchant, Bill Evans of the Pacific Northwest Shop, wants them in front of his business at 2702 N. Proctor St.

And yet today, nearly two years later, the bike racks remain in storage – like Zach Ouellette, the victim of a bureaucracy he can’t comprehend.

He’s not alone. When architect Jennifer Weddermann approached Tacoma officials to determine what she and Zach had to do to get the bike racks installed, the problems began.

“The city was delighted with the idea and gave us a list of requirements – the last one being the approval of the Proctor District Association,” Wedderman said. “The PDA said no."

The association allegedly has a plan that Zach’s bike racks do not meet because of rules pertaining to three-dimensional artwork in Proctor.

“We asked for a copy of the plan and were told it does not exist on paper,” Weddermann said.

The PDA executive board originally was told by Judi Quillici, a former PDA officer, that the bike racks didn’t conform to district plans.

“We already had a bike rack design, and continuity is something we try to maintain,” Quillici said. “This was something outside of that.”

A half dozen merchants sent the PDA letters backing the bike racks and requesting a vote of membership. The Farmers Market sent a letter signed by its treasurer, Bruce Larson.

“We respectfully request that you reconsider your decision and allow for the permanent installation of the bicycle rack designed and constructed by Zachary Ouellette ...” the letter read. “If the Proctor Plan does not allow for this installation, we ask that you consider amending the Proctor Plan to allow for these types of projects.”

PDA president Harold McMillian says he understands those who disagree with the association’s stand.

“We need to be open-minded, not so controlling, and that hasn’t always been the case.” McMillian said. “Zachary’s plan was good and unique, a nice art project. But if the board had approved it, we’d have been responsible for its insurance and maintenance.”

Zach made the project part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout. Evans, the merchant who’d backed him, didn’t want that honor to be caught up in bureaucracy, too, so he went to a Scout meeting with Zach.

“I was there to talk to the committee approving his Eagle badge and told them he’d done everything he could,” Evans said. “Zach got unanimous approval.

“I’m not a person who gets out and fights. I just want this to happen so badly because of Zach and all of his efforts.”

Weddermann, the architect, went back to Tacoma city officials and found Kala Dralle, who oversees the Neighborhood Business District Program.

She provided a way around the roadblock.

“We encourage anyone to go through the process, but the truth is, the PDA can say no all it wants – if the property owner wants to do something without PDA permission, it can be done,” Dralle said. “You’d still have to go through the permit process with the city.”

That news stunned PDA vice president John Gray.

“The kid didn’t need to meet with us? Why waste our time? Why tell us this is the process we’re responsible for, then say we don’t count? Gray said. “I’m confused.”

Imagine how Zach, now 18, feels.

“Oh, it’s been a laugh and a half. Dealing with a bureaucracy was disillusioning,” said Zach, a homeschool student enrolled in the Running Start program through Pierce College.

“I set out to accomplish a goal. Maybe it won’t be the way we originally planned, but I won’t feel the job is done until the Farmers Market has more space for bikes.”

Evans is researching the cost of insuring the racks if he places them in front of his shop. The permit application fee with Tacoma is $320, plus a $90 annual renewal fee.

“I absolutely want this to happen, and not just for Zach” he said. “I want to encourage public art and young people like Zach. That’s what builds community.”

For now, the bike racks are with Ouelette at his mother’s Orting farm.

“I designed and fabricated the racks in less time than I’ve spent on the telephone with this project,” Weddermann said. “If it ends up as junk in someone’s garage, that’s heart-breaking.

“Zach raised the money shaking a coffee can at the Farmers Market week after week, then worked with me to build them. I’ve been involved for a year, and I don’t know that we’re any closer to having them used than we were on Day One.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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