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Downtown Discussion Residents Question Proposed Plan
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Several Riverbank residents queried the proposed downtown general plan at a recent joint workshop of the Riverbank City Council and Planning Commission.

Business owner Loretta Larson complained the plan, now in environmental review, would restrict commercial use and drive existing stores out of business on Atchison Street.

"Rezoning should not include the north side of Atchison," she said. "It will limit the type of business there. It will constitute a taking of property and be open to a lawsuit."

Larson also said properties on both sides of Atchison, close to the businesses, have poor air quality and putting housing there, as recommended in the specific plan, should be reconsidered.

Introduced by Community Development Director J.D. Hightower, EIR Project Manager and consultant Matthew Gerkin made a PowerPoint presentation explaining the plan covers 218 acres and extends from Atchison (Highway 108) to Patterson Road north to south and from Seventh Street to Callander Avenue east to west.

Another resident and frequent critic of redevelopment, Evelyn Halbert, claimed at the start of the session that Mayor Virginia Madueno owned property within 500 feet of the project. So Madueno withdrew from the discussion and left the room, leaving vice mayor Richard O'Brien to preside over the meeting.

Halbert also expressed her concern with the proposed widening of First Street (a residential street) to accommodate traffic and said the EIR failed to consider proper land use in proposing to close Patterson Road and open up Santa Fe Street with a railroad underpass to the cannery site and connection to Callander Avenue.

She also complained at the specific plan boundaries being changed and a lack of public notices seeking public comment.

Another resident, Scott McRitchie inquired about the latest plan for Callander Avenue and Topeka Avenue where the St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church is located. Hightower said the current location of the church's parking lot creates a difficult and dangerous access to Callander on the corner and the parking lot could eventually be pushed back and located behind the church.

O'Brien queried whether the city had the water and wastewater capacity to serve the downtown plan area. Hightower replied it has sufficient water but wastewater capacity could be a problem. The city could eliminate a large amount of wastewater draining off the cannery site by making cross connections with the sewers.

The underpass, he suggested, could be financed with system development fees and grants that are available for grade separation projects. The transportation changes would include eight new signals and road widening. The California Department of Transportation might relinquish the state highway designation on Highway 108 - Caltrans is the lead agency for the North County Corridor bypass - which would make the city's transportation changes less expensive.

An underpass would be a tremendous help for emergency services in doubling up on the existing overpass, Hightower said. A derailment remained the main threat to the city road system.

As for the appearance of the downtown, the design element of the city's general plan says the city will encourage new buildings to reflect a scale, treatment and character in harmony with the traditional urban buildings that give the downtown its character.

The general plan also calls for enhancing pedestrian access through the design of buildings, streets and sidewalks, establishing continuous building facades with attractive window treatments and minimal or no setback distance from sidewalks.

To generate pedestrian interest and comfort, the general plan also will encourage large windows, canopies, arcades, plazas and outdoor seating.