Study session becomes a call for action

MARTINEZ, Calif. – More parking, a hotel or inn, building height limitation, density, and building uses topped agenda at an informal Downtown Plan Study Session, but most of all there was a sense of urgency.

During public comment, Mike Telfer reminded the council that the city was often flooded while it took 50 years to act on a flood control plan.

Christina Ratcliffe, economic and community development director said it was an unusual presentation since they were not there to present a plan but to get direction from the council at a public meeting. Increasing population density downtown, more parking, improving and filling old vacant buildings, and acting quickly were themes of conversation throughout the October 2, meeting.

“I think the real key is housing,” Mayor Rob Schroder said. “I think heights need to increase.”

As the former owner of two downtown businesses, Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner agreed, “Without people down there you can’t survive,” she commented.

Councilmember Lara DeLaney said the city should explore the idea of a multi-level parking facility on Parking Lot 4 (near the Community College building). Everyone on the council remarked on the need to free up downtown parking for the use of shoppers by building a parking structure and working with the county to provide juror parking with a “green” shuttle, from elsewhere.

Councilmember Debbie McKillop said other municipalities have successfully supplemented parking by allowing housing with lower level parking that can be used by the public during certain daytime hours when residents are at work.

Councilmember Mark Ross asked about flexible zoning. He observed that the council makes zoning decisions and then two years later the market says it wants something else.

That was clearly exemplified by remarks from Mike Telfer and his consultant Steve Reilly of Land Advisors. “The only thing that has been built in the past 15 years is the Berrellesa Palms, and it was government subsidized, and won’t support anything downtown,” he said. “I have had multiple builders and developers contact me. It (current municipal code/zoning) doesn’t work the way it is.” Teller said he owns property across the street from Berrellesa Palms on Berrellesa Street.

Reilly said, “You need to provide more flexibility in the General Plan. The Telfer property has some constraints were not taken into consideration.” He suggested making a height limit without specifying uses.

When it came to heights, all of the comments at that meeting favored raising height limits, but not too high. The municipal code height limit is 40 feet now, which is about three stories, according to planners. Ross suggested it could match the height of the Community College building or the new Contra Costa County building that will replace the tall Pine Street building that will be demolished.

Tim Farley, who lives downtown said nobody said the Masonic Hall was an eyesore.

“Millennials don’t want a yard, and they need public transportation.”

Ross believes the downtown needs improvement and DeLaney strongly supports moving the city corporation yard out of downtown. There was no disagreement about that.

Schroder said the vacant buildings in downtown are a problem and claimed the DiMaggio building (701 Main Street) has been vacant for five years. DeLaney said the council needs to get serious, providing “carrots and sticks” to owners to get some action.

Later in the meeting, Reilly remarked, “If there is no economic incentive to tear it down (vacant building) or improve it, owners just sit there. We need to bring the stakeholders like Dunivan, Lippow, and Telfer into a room. You have to ask what needs to be done, and it has to be realistic.” He also said “affordable housing” needs to be clearly defined.

Among other topics was Schroder’s claim that Bocce Tournament visitors go to Concord. Presumably, they also go to the Martinez inns in the vicinity of HWY 4. Schroder has consistently supported the idea of a hotel at the Marina.

With the pressure on to complete and/or plans for the Marina, the Downtown and the General Plan quickly, there was the suggestion that they may need to hire some extra planning help.

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