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Walnut Creek west downtown specific plan taking shape

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By Elisabeth Nardi

WALNUT CREEK — A blueprint for future development of the western downtown area is closer to becoming a reality.

A City Council-appointed community group has been working for months to map out commercial and residential development uses and transit ideas for the western area of downtown. The area north of Olympic Boulevard stretching to the Walnut Creek BART Station will likely become a higher-density urban area, with new links to transit.

Walnut Creek received a $450,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to create the West Downtown Specific Plan, and the city chipped in $150,000.

The specific plan area is generally bounded by Ygnacio Valley Road on the north, California Boulevard on the east, Olympic Boulevard on the south and Interstate 680 on the west.

The Citizens Advisory Committee chose a “preferred scenario” map which will become the basis for the plan. That scenario focuses on land use and the basics of the transportation/circulation system, according to Andrew Smith, city planner over the project.

That plan does not allow for a mid-block pathway cutting through the middle of the Almond-Shuey neighborhood, which had been controversial.

“We are studying the possibility of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Ygnacio Valley Road to connect to the BART station,” Smith said in an e-mail. “However, this is not shown on the rough draft map.

“Likewise, gateways and other community character elements are not yet shown on the map,” he added.

The map shows that most of Mt. Diablo and California Boulevards will be zoned for retail or office-oriented mixed use — think office space over ground-floor retail. Office-only uses are envisioned closer to the freeway than the proposed return to the mixture of offices and retail along Olympic Boulevard. Multifamily residential is primarily located in the areas closer to the BART station, and no zoning change is shown for the historic Almond-Shuey neighborhood — though development changes will almost certainly occur in the immediate surrounding area.

Also called out on the draft plan map is the Stow Steps, an idea circulated in 2011 to create a pedestrian stairway on the city-owned right of way between the end of Stow Avenue and California Boulevard. The map also calls out a space for a potential hotel on the corner of Olympic and California Boulevards, but the overall plan is not sufficiently detailed to clearly identify sites for such specific uses.

The actual draft plan won’t be ready until spring of 2014. The group will next focus on creating a streetscape design and standards, urban design, parking, an infrastructure development plan, a financing strategy and fiscal impact analysis, Smith said. The council won’t review the plan until next summer or fall.

Many groups have weighed in as the plan evolves.

“It’s exciting to see the emphasis on creating more walkable, bikable neighborhoods that can make Walnut Creek an even better place to live,” said Matt Vander Sluis with the Greenbelt Alliance. “Hopefully, this rough outline will be polished in the months ahead into a long-range vision that brings vitality to West Downtown and eases the pressure of sprawl on our natural lands.”

And in a letter to the citizens advisory committee, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition urges that the streets be designed so it’s safe for bicyclists, specifically on California, Mt. Diablo and Olympic Boulevards. The group asks for the city to avoid landscaped medians, have a designated bike lane on all roads where the speed limit is above 20 mph and a protected bikeway known as a “cycle track” on California Boulevard.

“Improving bicycle facilities not only benefits cyclists, but it also benefits motorists due to the decrease in traffic congestion and the demand for vehicular parking spaces,” according to the letter from Dave Campbell, the bicycle coalition’s advocacy director.

The advisory committee’s next meeting is 4 p.m. Thursday, at City Hall in the third floor conference room, 1666 N. Main St. The next community workshop is planned for the end of October or early November. For more information go to www.walnut-creek.org/westdowntown.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

This article appeared in the Contra Costa Times.

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