In seeking to set the stage for future growth and development in Belmont, officials are updating long-term citywide planning documents and a critical zoning guide they hope will foster a more centralized downtown.
The City Council and Planning Commission hosted a joint study session Tuesday to review progress made on the 2035 General Plan update and Belmont Village Specific Plan. Officials initiated the process in 2014 and with continued public outreach, hope to finalize the documents by 2017.
“This has been a long time coming. We have a general plan that’s been in place since Ronald Reagan was first elected to the White House; I believe it was typed on a typewriter. That tells you how old it is,” Mayor Eric Reed said about the outdated 1982 plan. “Belmont has changed, the Peninsula has changed and the general plan is finally being updated to reflect that.”
The new general plan covers land use, circulation, recreation and open space, conservation, safety, noise and housing. Future developments will be measured against the document to see if it adheres to the plan’s goals. A few include preserving existing residential neighborhoods, promoting economic growth in focused areas, promoting a safe transportation system while using existing infrastructure more efficiently, pursuing dedicated funds to preserve and expand parks as well as open space, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting against natural hazards and more.
The specific plan is a new document being drafted as a way to create a centralized downtown. It covers a more narrowly focused region primarily surrounding the intersection of El Camino Real and Ralston Avenue.
Rezoning to encourage construction of high-density housing, mixed-use developments as well as restaurants, retail and entertainment opportunities near transit has been the pinnacle of the plan.
“The idea that we’ve gotten this close to getting this done is incredibly satisfying and exciting,” said Vice Mayor Charles Stone. “I’m very much looking forward to having the plan finalized by early 2017 and anxious to see what sort of interest we get from the private sector in helping us build a vibrant, walkable and villagelike downtown for both our residents and folks in the county at large to enjoy.”
Councilman Doug Kim said he’s glad these plans are taking a holistic approach toward the city as well as a more narrow focus on downtown. He’s hopeful the documents create a positive tone for the future and Belmont’s position along the Peninsula.
“I think it’s a sign to the Peninsula that we would like to move our city in a certain direction and that we’re open to new ideas. But we need to try and temper expectations, it’s going to take a while, properties don’t redevelop overnight,” Kim said. “I think for years people have looked at Belmont as a city that was not open to change and I think the general plan is saying, we’re open to organic change, but we’d like to have some fun too. A future Belmont that has an even better personality.”
Kim and Reed both discussed the east side of El Camino Real, an often-overlooked area. Kim said it’s important to recognize the value of having light-industrial spaces where middle-class workers are employed to promote a balanced community. Reed said he’s interested in ways to improve circulation connecting the east and west sides of the train tracks making it easier for pedestrians to frequent downtown.
Reed said he was pleased the commission and council came to a unanimous agreement to move forward directing staff and consultant Dyett & Bhatia to proceed with a formal draft of the specific plan.
A draft of the general plan and its various elements is available for review, and eventually an environmental impact report will be prepared, said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo, who noted the significance of the documents.
“These are key policy documents to the city that help guide a lot of decisions whether it’s land use, future infrastructure, community vision. It’s absolutely essential,” de Melo said. “This is one of the most important things we’re doing in the city and I’m happy that we’re marching through it.”