City Manager Leon Churchill informed the gathering of city officials, business owners and residents that the downtown workshop was a continuation of a public meeting a few months ago. He said to achieve a successful downtown, business and property owners need to organize and tell city officials what they want for the district.
“We want to convey that you have been heard,” Churchill told the approximately 45 residents and business owners in attendance.
He said they needed to keep the focus of the meeting on two primary topics: downtown housing and the future of 11th Street.
The specific plan now suggests that more housing nearby would encourage more people to spend time and money downtown. But that could be problematic, Councilman Mike Maciel pointed out.
He said the plan to build on the Bowtie area just south of Sixth Street was not feasible without a purchasing agreement from Union Pacific Railroad, and the existing housing stock was under the control of private entities.
He also pointed out that the construction of future housing projects would also be conducted by private developers, not the city.
“We’re chasing our tail with this concept,” he said. “I don’t see an easy answer.”
Churchill reassured those in attendance that the city had no plans to take over property via eminent domain, and that the city purchases property through negotiations and not force.
Mayor Brent Ives said he wasn’t convinced the answer was more housing as it was people willing to live and spend their money downtown. There’s got to be a reason for people to want to live there.
“I’m looking for three to four magic pills to make the strategy work,” Ives said. “I don’t know how much more the city can do.”
Resident Christina Frankel added that housing should not be considered a draw for downtown, but an anchor.
“You’re looking at it economically than the soul of the place,” she said. “We’re all here trying to make sure it stays what we want it to be.”
Others at the meeting agreed, including Debbie George, a business owner on 10th Street. She said restaurants should be the starting point, and only then should the focus turn to retail. Her husband and co-owner of their business, Bruce George, said there also must be a continuity of events that are publicized to reach as many residents as possible.
Churchill replied that the campaign to promote downtown block parties, a series that drew people downtown over the summer months to listen to different musical groups at the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue, cost $15,000 of that $75,000 venture.
Limits on 11th Street?
The issue of restricting what type of businesses could set up shop on 11th Street also drew the attention of several local entrepreneurs.
“We want to maintain the current zoning,” said a relative of the owners of an 11th Street car wash and adjacent salon building. “I’d like (11th Street) to stay the way it is. We don’t want to be part of the specific plan.”
The downtown specific plan dictates what will and won’t be allowed on 11th Street. The current plan would favor fast food restaurants, multi-family housing and disallow automotive-related businesses like gas stations, as well as others. Properties left vacant for a minimum of six months with a use that doesn’t conform to the specific plan would be rezoned, so the nonconforming business couldn’t be resuscitated at that location.
The concept, as outlined at a previous downtown specific plan meeting, is to push certain business types toward the core of downtown.
But the spokesman for two 11th Street businesses stressed that 11th Street was oriented for automotive-related businesses and that it would never be a pedestrian-friendly area. He said instead of dictating where a business can go, the city should provide incentives to make business owners want to locate downtown.
Another 11th Street business owner told the board if the 11 Street aspect of the plan goes through, there will be 32 nonconforming businesses on 11th Street.
But Churchill stressed the plan was not finalized and officials would be flexible with the vacancy time limit. He said the city could allow a business to remain vacant for years without rezoning.
Tracy City Center Association member Dino Margaros, who owns the Tracy Inn, said there was a perception that the plan was taking from 11th Street to benefit the downtown area. He said they didn’t want people to be split and make it “Us versus them.”
Ives also stressed the importance of moving forward together to breathe more life into downtown as soon as possible. He said the city’s oldest business district has been mostly the same for decades, and if participants in this process can’t agree on how to improve it, people 25 years from will be saying the same thing.
He said many Tracy residents don’t even know where the downtown is located, and that the downtown needs to be defined, and given identity and continuity.
“We need to make it as good as it can be,” he said. “How can we collectively make some decisions?”
Churchill said additional meetings will be held by the planning commission to address other areas of the downtown specific meeting. He said on Jan. 11, 2012, there will be a meeting to talk about land use; followed by site design and parking on Feb. 8; building design on March 14; and signage on April 11.