Belmont’s long-sought centralized downtown hub is taking a small step after the City Council instructed staff Tuesday night to move forward with study recommendations for the Belmont Village Zoning standards and voted to apply for a $550,000 regional grant.
Plans to create a downtown include encouraging more compact residences closer to downtown, creating a centralized shopping focal point and consolidating parking to encourage visitors to walk to multiple destinations.
Councilmembers hope aligning city policy with market conditions will facilitate a more economically successful downtown that will generate revenue while maintaining the city’s quaint style its residents adore.
“It has the potential to provide Belmont with a real downtown and a vibrant area that’s consistent with the village feel that so many folks in Belmont want to see,” Mayor Warren Lieberman said.
However, the city is facing significant challenges in revamping downtown such as fragmented parcel ownership, zoning restrictions, needed infrastructure repairs, community support and financing, according to a study prepared by the consulting firm Strategic Economics.
One of the most important moves the city can begin taking immediately is to reach out the community and engage stakeholders, said Dena Belzer, president of Strategic Economics.
“The community is an integral part in making change happen,” Belzer said.
Reaching out to residents, business owners and property developers is crucial if the council expects to move through the process expeditiously, Councilman Charles Stone said.
“I agree wholeheartedly with moving forward as quickly as possible,” Stone said. “[We’ve got] to reach out to businesses and get stakeholder buy-in.”
As a small typically affluent city, Belmont has a strong residential marketplace that, when located strategically, can be used to build a successful downtown, according to the study.
Councilman Eric Reed was in full support of the recommendations and agreed introducing new residents correlates to introducing new shoppers.
Current zoning conditions in the area may need to change to follow through with study suggestions, said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo.
To create a synergistic retail spot, the council may need to be more flexible by zoning for more housing in the surrounding area, de Melo said.
Parking in the area is currently spread out, so Belzer recommended creating a centrally located lot where people could park and walk, thus encouraging people to frequent surrounding businesses.
One of the more challenging aspects to developing a downtown is financing and figuring out how to leverage funds, de Melo said. The city will be applying for the $550,000 grant from San Mateo County’s City/County Association of Governments, however, it’s a competitive process, de Melo said.
Even if funds are currently incomplete, the city will still make substantial progress by implementing Belmont Village Zoning policies, Belzer said.
“If you have a plan in place and keep moving forward, the funding will emerge,” Belzer said.
What the city is able to accomplish will eventually be dictated by the market and how developers and property owners choose to act, de Melo said. Although the city is still a long way from breaking ground, the council’s approval of the report is getting the ball rolling, he said.
“We’re all hopeful it’s going to move expeditiously. But the public process takes time, and tonight was a great step,” de Melo said.
Before specific policies and plans are established, there will be months revolved around approving environmental impact reports, community outreach and public hearings, de Melo said.
Councilmembers are cautiously excited to see progress that’s been years in the making. The Belmont Village Zoning standards create a specific blueprint that will be detailed enough to facilitate the types of development the city wants to see, Lieberman said.
“[This] doesn’t create policy, it creates the process to get there,” Lieberman said. “I think we’ve got a very strong opportunity not to change the character of the city, but to enhance it.”
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