In working to set the stage for a more centralized downtown while keeping Belmont’s quaint character, the City Council and Planning Commission will host a joint study session Tuesday, Dec. 15, to discuss the Village Specific Plan.
From creating more affordable housing to improving the pedestrian experience and traffic flow, the comprehensive planning document will guide the future of the city’s currently disjointed downtown.
The area roughly surrounding the intersection of Ralston Avenue and El Camino Real includes the Caltrain station, Twin Pines Park, City Hall and the U.S. post office. It’s an area that’s arguably underutilized with several empty buildings, surface parking lots, minimal brand recognition and is ripe for new opportunities.
“Currently, some folks aren’t even sure where downtown Belmont is — and that’s telling,” Vice Mayor Charles Stone said in an email. “We really don’t have a destination that draws everyone in town together. There’s a way to create a place like that and not only keep, but strengthen, the village charm of Belmont.”
The community will have another opportunity to expand on the suggestions made during the first public workshop in October with city staff aiming to incorporate the Belmont Village Specific Plan into the city’s General Plan update.
During the workshop, community members noted examples that would be suitable models for Belmont to follow such as Laurel Street in San Carlos, Burlingame Avenue, as well as the downtowns of Menlo Park, Healdsburg and Los Altos, according to a staff report.
The specific plan will help address some of the barriers that have detracted from a more cohesive downtown, such as smaller lots and the lack of presence, said Councilman Doug Kim.
“What’s been lacking is any identity in our commercial zones along El Camino. If you drive along El Camino Real, you won’t notice a single memorable thing about Belmont, except possibly the Caltrain station. We can do better than that and build something that represents our unique personality,” Kim said in an email.
Creating a more vibrant commercial district should involve centralizing an active space where people attend civic events, participate in recreational opportunities, dine and shop, Kim said.
The City Council identified the plan as a priority early last year and expert consultants have suggested incorporating more housing in the area that staff has broken into four main quadrants running the Caltrain corridor and Ralston Avenue.
As cities across the Peninsula strive to balance the impacts of an influx in jobs paired with a lack of housing, particularly affordable options, Belmont must consider appropriate locations to redevelop.
“In Belmont, there’s very few opportunities to build housing for all sectors of our economy, but El Camino is our real obvious chance to do something that touches a lot of positive policy goals,” Kim said, noting valuable proximity of transit infrastructure like Caltrain.
Stone, who proposed redeveloping city-owned lots near El Camino Real and Hill Street to provide workforce housing for teachers or city employees, agreed having residents nearby to shop locally can greatly contribute to an area’s success.
“Housing is an important part of making a downtown work,” Stone said. “It really is a win-win when you can provide much needed housing and, in doing so, help catalyze a burgeoning downtown area.”
Eventually, the city will undergo an environmental impact report covering the entire General Plan as well as the document guiding downtown. Still in the early stages, officials are encouraging the public to participate in shaping the vision for Belmont’s future decades.
“Creating the right conditions for a vibrant and dynamic downtown village will not only help provide for economic development opportunities, but will help create a gathering place for folks from all walks of life in Belmont and give the town a new sense of identity,” Stone said. “Having the public involved in this process will ensure we hear as many viewpoints as possible. … I encourage everyone in Belmont to … participate, and stay up to date on what’s happening.”
The study session begins 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, at City Hall, One Twin Pines Lane, Belmont. Visit www.planbelmontvillage.com for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106