After criticism from some community members — including Edmonds’ best-known celebrity, Rick Steves — that the design for a new Edmonds Veterans Plaza was promoting the military rather than honoring veterans, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved a revised plan for the project.
Steves, an Edmonds resident who owns the Edmonds-based Rick Steves’ Europe travel company, appeared in person Tuesday night to make his feelings known during the council’s public comment period. He not only spoke to the council, but also at times turned to address a group of veterans who were gathered in the council chambers to hear council discussion of the plaza project, which will be built outside of the city’s Public Safety Complex at 250 5th Ave. N.
“We all benefit from the sacrifice and the valor of our military, and everybody I know, regardless of their politics, wants to always remember veterans that have made a sacrifice,” Steves said. “But if we are taking city land and city money and making people who have fought and people who have not fought walk by it every day, it’s the responsibility of this city government to make it inclusive, rather than a lecture but something that we can all enjoy and celebrate together.”
During a presentation later in the meeting, City of Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite told the council that there have been concerns “from a few citizens” that the project was “too militaristic…and it wasn’t welcoming.” Those citizens included both Steves and Woodway resident David Quinn, who also spoke before the council Tuesday. Quinn is a high school teacher who oversees the International Baccalaureate Program at Edmonds-Woodway, but stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen. Quinn told the council that some of the plaza elements “are out of scale and proportion,” and he encouraged councilmembers “to take the time to get it right…so you are properly honoring those individuals who made a great sacrifice for our country.”
Hite said that a community group comprised of both veterans and non-veterans, which is charged with overseeing the plaza design and raising money to fund the project, has met with Quinn and Steves a few times over the past several months. Based on those concerns, the committee has worked with consultant Brian Bishop of Site Workshop to redesign the plaza, Hite said, and that design was presented to the council Tuesday night.
The new design breaks up some of the hard surface and adds vegetation and seating areas “that could be considered more welcoming for the plaza,” Hite said. It will cost an extra $30,000 to make those changes, and the council voted unanimously to allocate that money from the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) fund, since the plaza committee did not count on the extra expense as part of its fundraising efforts.
The new design also replaces dark-colored stone with lighter tones, and reduces the size and placement of military emblems representing the five branches of military service. Those emblems were a particular bone of contention for Steves, who told the council in his comments that “personally, I see no reason to have five emblems celebrating the different branches of our military” included in the plaza design.
“I’ve got a different perspective, and so do most of the people in this community,” Steves said. “We want a veterans memorial; we don’t want a pro-military memorial. We need to get the other half — my friends — to take this seriously and not roll their eyes every time they walk by.”
Councilmember Tom Mesaros, who has been working with the veterans plaza committee and is the only military veteran on the city council, offered his perspective on the significance of military emblems.
“The emblem plays a role in the identification for a veteran,” said Mesaros, noting the loyalty that veterans feel to their particular branch of the service and the competitive but good-natured teasing that occurs between service members.
Mesaros, who was in the Army stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War, recalled visiting his sister last summer in West Haven, Conn., when he came across a newly-installed veterans plaza. “And my first inkling was to find the United States Army emblem, and to stand by that emblem,” he said. “So that’s important element of this, especially for those that served.”
Fundraising efforts for the project have been led by Vietnam veteran and local real estate agent Ron Clyborne, who told the council that $282,000 has been donated so far toward the committee’s $450,000 goal.
The Off-Leash Area Edmonds group has been raising money separately to fund a statue that will commemorate the role of dogs both in wartime and in helping wounded veterans heal when they return home.
— By Teresa Wippel