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Downtown - Specific Plan Takes Shape
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A downtown specific plan is being developed for Riverbank and input will be sought from the public on making sure the plan meets all the needed objectives.

First unveiled in a power point presentation for Riverbank city officials, the plan was presented by consultant John Anderson, a veteran of 30-plus years in the land use planning business, at a Planning Commission meeting. Now, the public will get their turn to see the plan specifics and offer comment and suggestions.

Members of the community are invited to attend the next planning commission meeting/workshop, set for Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers, 6707 Third St.

Community involvement will also include a series of meetings with vested property owners, said officials, and the Riverbank Planning Commission will review and receive public comment on each element of the plan before final changes to the plan will be made for presentation to the full city council.

The role of the specific plan will be to establish changes to policies and regulations to attract and guide desired new investment, assess proposed development projects to ensure they support the community’s stated goals, focus capital improvements and public investment in support of desired change, and coordinate and focus city-wide planning efforts in support of downtown revitalization.

Anderson explained that they sent out 900 notices regarding an initial meeting to discuss concerns and questions regarding the downtown specific plan and only one or two property owners attended.

“I don’t know if it’s just the fact that folks are busy and they can’t participate in the process or what it is,” said Anderson. “As far as I am concerned they can participate in many ways, either show up to the meetings, call us, or email us, or schedule an appointment to meet with us and we can go over all the details but quite frankly we have not had that one-on-one communication.”

Some of the guiding principles in the plan presentation indicate that downtown Riverbank should have a ‘small town character’ with the downtown being the social and cultural heart of the community, adding that small locally-owned businesses are an important part of the unique character of Riverbank and essential to a healthy economy.

Also listed in the presentation is community identity, choice, diversity, improved quality of life as the city grows, and land use.

City Manager Jill Anderson (no relation to John) explained that consultant Anderson started about a year ago assisting the city in getting all of their planning documents in order and to identify what needed to be done so that the city could move forward.

Discussions about revitalizing downtown started in 2007 and a downtown specific plan was created, however due to situations including the economic downturn, that plan was set aside.

Since the community has changed from 2007 to current day, the city manager expressed that they had concerns whether the plan that was created then was realistic for the city in its current situation now.

“We had some concerns about really was it what we needed today, was it realistic for what factors were influencing business and development today, not 2006 or 2007,” stated Jill Anderson. “…We are just trying to put this out there for people to get comments on and maybe we can talk about what a specific plan is and how this fits into the general plan.”

The draft plan boundary has changed from the original proposed boundary that was suggested by staff. The area will be a mixed-use neighborhood with commercial and residential property that can either change or grow horizontally or vertically.

“Other properties as a redevelopment opportunity have been waiting for this specific plan as a tool,” stated John Anderson. “The specific plan is a planning instrument that folks rely on in order to develop their property.

“It is like zoning and in fact it replaces the zoning that they enjoy on their property, because it talks about things like building setbacks, building heights, but it goes beyond that; it talks about the types of structures that would be allowed architecturally and sets up guidelines for that and talks about what the infrastructure demands are going to be and etcetera, and parking; all types of things you would expect out of a zoning ordinance but it’s site specific under this specific plan.”

Consultant Anderson also explained that in 2007 there was discussion about the extension of Santa Fe underneath the BNSF main line which would connect redevelopment opportunities to the downtown commercial core area. As a principal component of the downtown specific plan and a costly improvement item it is something for the council to take into consideration and evaluate their priorities, he said.

Anderson added that after he reviewed the 2007 work and took into account the multitude of changes since then, the specific plan could be expanded to include additional properties along State Route 108 which are in the city limits but were excluded from the original boundaries.

City Manager Anderson pointed out that this is a long term plan and if any property is rezoned, it does not necessarily mean that people have to leave or tear down their property.

She added that there is no perfect plan, however, there has to be a foundation for the downtown revitalization.

“We want to get it done right so there is some solid foundation from which to evaluate projects on and that the business owners know exactly what is going to be expected of them,” she said.

“It is not a done deal and we want and desire public participation in the process and we will accept that participation in any way shape or form,” said consultant Anderson. “A meeting, a phone call, an email. If you have a project you want to do but you are not sure you will be able to do it under these standards, let’s talk about it; let’s go over it. That’s the kind of test case that we need to be able to prove out the plan.”