The effort to redevelop and revitalize Belmont’s downtown has spurred city officials to also take a look at the city’s general plan, the guiding policy document that outlines goals and which last saw a revision in 1982.
“I think the city is years behind where it could have been and, in my opinion, should have been,” Councilman Charles Stone said.
The council directed staff Tuesday to solicit proposals from consultation firms and allotted up to a $550,000 advance from its general fund to finalize policy documents and conduct environmental impact reports and other studies, said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo. Those funds would eventually be paid back over time through development, housing and environmental impact fees, de Melo said. The council also approved an application for a $550,000 regional grant last month. Final approval of any expenditure would come at a later time.
Belmont has long been noted for not having a central downtown hub and the council kick-started plans late last month for new policies to shift that. The plans 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.
Before residents see any real physical developments, the city needs to get its financing in order, hire consultants, conduct studies, go through the public hearing process and have the council approve the planning documents.
But councilmembers say these plans will pave the way and the city’s seen more progress in the last few months then it has in the last eight years.
“It’s a very big step toward taking positive and productive action toward making a revitalized downtown a reality,” Mayor Warren Lieberman said. “Especially to create a downtown in the spirit of a village feel and what so many in Belmont are looking forward to.”
The city is looking at creating and updating the Belmont Village General Plan, Zoning and Design Guidelines as well as Belmont’s General Plan, according to a staff report. Staff’s recommendations last month still stand and will be incorporated into the documents, de Melo said.
Belmont’s downtown will be pedestrian friendly and have more flexible zoning codes to support more residential and mixed-use buildings near a concentrated retail core, de Melo said.
Residents want to see a vibrant and unique downtown, Stone said.
“The lack of a downtown is noticed and on people’s minds. It was one of the most commonly brought up issues during the election,” Stone said. “I think a downtown can do a lot for a city’s economy and more importantly, I think a downtown gives a city a sense of identity.”
San Mateo and San Carlos were recently voted as two of California’s top 10 cities to live while Belmont was in 18th place, Stone said. Belmont has similar characteristics of both cities and he fears the lack of a downtown could be holding them back, Stone said.
The city may be investing a substantial chunk into planning documents, but Stone and Lieberman believe it’s for a valuable cause and will pay off in the future when the city starts to see impact fees from developers.
These documents are critical because if the city wants to support new developments, it will have to modify some of its zoning codes, de Melo said.
Belmont is growing and a lot has changed since the inception of its 1982 general plan so staff is recommending a multi-pronged approach to include the city’s overall land use plans within its downtown efforts, de Melo said.
“The downtown work is the engine for all of this. It really kind of brings things along. But there are some efficiencies in getting all of our documents completed at the same time,” de Melo said. “Because we’d have to do an EIR for the village part of the city and [one] for the rest of the city, if you do an EIR that covers both areas of the city there are some efficiencies and cost savings in doing so.”
Staff hopes to return to council in 30 to 45 days with solidified consulting contracts. The city and consulting firms will conduct substantial community and neighborhood outreach as it develops its plans, de Melo said.
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