Belmont residents, officials and now consultants are taking a big picture look at the future of the city as they seek to shape a centralized downtown and update its decades-old general plan.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the City Council authorized a $550,000 contract to work with a consulting firm to finalize its Belmont Village and General Plan update and environmental review.
City officials have long sought to create a vibrant downtown and began drafting policy documents last year that will help steer the future of the small community. To promote a downtown hub, the city will look at encouraging more compact residences closer to downtown, creating a centralized shopping focal point and consolidating parking to encourage more walkable streets. The downtown plan will likely support residential and mixed-use buildings near a concentrated retail core, said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo said.
“What’s nice about this is it’s not just a City Council initiative, it’s not just a city staff initiative, this is really something that the people of Belmont have weighed in on and there’s been overwhelming support for moving in this direction,” Mayor Warren Lieberman said.
De Melo said the city is bringing in Dyett & Bhatia, Urban and Regional Planners, to finalize its general plan, a policy document that covers the entire city, which will be good until 2035. The city’s general plan hasn’t been comprehensively updated since 1982 and topics such as land use, traffic, parks and noise, he added.
The city is also in the process of conducting its Ralston Avenue Corridor Study to evaluate potential improvements for the city’s busiest thoroughfare and its Housing Element, which determines affordable housing goals for the city through 2023, de Melo said.
These studies will be featured within the general plan, however the downtown Belmont Village Plan will likely illustrate the largest area for potential change, de Melo said.
An economically healthy downtown needs a vibrant residential neighborhood, Councilman Charles Stone said.
“What everyone wants is a vibrant downtown with walkable areas and community gathering places and a village feel. That’s not going to be successful unless we have more residences in the downtown area,” Stone said. “It’s allowing more transit-oriented development downtown, which is the catalyst that we know we need to see the commercial downtown that we know we want.”
The city will consider relaxing its downtown zoning codes to allow for construction with more height and density, de Melo said. Stone added this would help the city keep up with its affordable housing requirements and the need for more residential opportunities in general.
Councilman Eric Reed agreed a healthy downtown depends on a strong neighborhood, adding housing near transit and shopping is highly desirable along the Peninsula.
“Allowing people to live near Caltrain is a really big deal,” Reed said. “It’s a key component of the millennial generation’s lifestyle to live near mass transit.”
The walkable lifestyle that comes with living close to a downtown core is also attractive to seniors who may wish to downsize, Reed said.
Lieberman said many have sought to create the cozy village feel of a downtown for nearly a decade and although some may be apprehensive about development, working with a consultant should help ease the process.
“I think this is quite a significant step towards allowing Belmont to revitalize and enhance the quality of life for our residents through new development. I think we want to be very sensitive to the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods and this action really lets us work with professionals to help make all of that happen,” Lieberman said.
De Melo said the city and consultant plan on beginning work in August and anticipate it could last between 15 and 18 months. The updates and environmental review process will include robust community outreach such as public meetings, newsletters and online forums, de Melo said. Belmont was awarded a regional grant from the City/County Association of Governments to assist in implementing the downtown plan once it’s completed. It will receive $440,000 and must commit $110,000 of its own funds, de Melo said.
As the Ralston Avenue Corridor study and Housing Element study proceed, the Belmont Village and General Plan updates will provide more opportunity to envision a larger picture of the city’s future, Lieberman said.
“We’re trying as best we can to look at how all of the aspects of Belmont can kind of come together towards creating this new environment. So as we develop the downtown, what are the impacts on mobility on Ralston and how do we address that? So what’s nice is we’re trying to do this in a comprehensive way instead of piecemeal,” Lieberman said. “It’s a time of transition and we’re trying to do things right so that this can be an even better place for a lot of people to live for a long time.”
For more information visit www.belmont.gov.
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