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Downtown Specific Plan becomes public

DAN FOSCALINA

The draft version of the Downtown Specific Plan is now available to the public.

Accepting the Truckee Planning Commission’s recommendation to release the draft copy, town councilmembers last Thursday voted 4-1 to do just that. The lone dissenting vote came from Mayor Bob Drake, who did so to support comments he made regarding the Barsell property.

The DSP has been in the making for two years with effort focused on allowing for growth without destroying Truckee’s small-town character. Included in the 600-acre DSP are Commercial Row, the Old Mill Site and the Hilltop region, as well as several undeveloped and residential sites.

Although the agenda item dealt with releasing the draft DSP, much of the conversation surrounded the Barsell Lot – a 13-acre parcel adjacent to the Sierra Mountain Cemetery – and its land-use designations.

Drake said he was concerned with the number of projects turned down by the town on the Barsell Lot, the most current being a proposed mid-range hotel with accompanying retail space.

“I don’t know how much longer (property owner Richard Barsell) has to keep putting up with this,” Drake said. “I would say file the project and either accept it or reject it.

“We are just delaying him.”

Town Planner Elizabeth Eddins said the draft DSP is comprised of four volumes, including impacts on the environment, zoning ordinances, existing conditions in the downtown and policies and programs. The May 22 meeting agenda item was the first in a long series of public hearings.

“The review tonight is preliminary and is to provide the planning staff with direction to proceed,” Eddins said. “(It) will be subject to change with all the public hearings yet to come.”

Eddins also gave the draft’s scope and timing for the summer months. In June, planning staff hope to have the four volumes completed and public hearing notices sent out to all downtown business and property owners, Eddins said.

“This will identify the availability of the documents and the public hearing dates,” she said.

Planning commission hearings will begin in July and August, while town council hearings will be scheduled in September, she said.

Eddins said planning commissioner recommendations focused on the Barsell Lot, specifically the types of primary and secondary uses, the viability of those uses and encouraging lodging in the downtown area.

“They recommended language (in the DSP) be slightly modified to state we should encourage additional lodging in the Downtown Study Area as a whole,” Eddins said.

A second recommendation from commissioners came in the form of recognizing the efforts of GATE students who assisted in surveying the Old Mill Site in the DSP, Eddins said.

In regard to the Barsell Lot, Councilmember Steve Carpenter questioned development incentives contained in planning commission’s staff report.

Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook said incentives used broad-based language that allow for interpretation on a case-by-case basis.

“The planning commission said incentives would be considered on a case-by-case basis but they didn’t want to deviate from current land-use designations,” Lashbrook said. “It is the Barsell Lot’s freeway location and distance from the downtown core that are the basis for land-use recommendations.

“This is very broadly worded to give latitude there.”

Larry Hoffman, attorney for Barsell, said a development plan has been on file with the town since 1994 and he would like to see a lodging facility move ahead.

“We want to know what needs to be done to get a lodging facility on the Barsell property,” Hoffman said. “We are trying to get something that will work.”

Bob Robinson, a hospitality consultant from Sacramento hired by Barsell, said a mid-range hotel with 50 rooms and 50 suites is feasible on the property. Such a development would generate as many as 45 new jobs and increase the town’s transient occupancy tax collections.

The hotel, however, won’t be economically viable by itself.

“We need to have other things than just a hotel,” Robinson said. “We need retail and commercial buildings there, they play off each other. We won’t do a stand alone there.”

Speaking on behalf of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and as a member of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Committee, Stefanie Olivieri said Barsell property development should be low-intensity and be in balance with land-use designations in the downtown commercial core.

“If you take the advice of the (DCAC), development should be at a lower intensity,” Olivieri said. “I would hope you can remember that the public’s needs and expectations are very important and in keeping a balance we think we have provided you that in 15,000 square feet (for a hotel and pertinent retail space).”

Former town councilmember Breeze Cross said the issue not only deals with the Barsell property, but also with releasing the draft DSP to the public. The DSP shouldn’t be released to the public, he said.

While preparing the town’s general plan, councilmembers projected population growth and subsequent development to take place north of Interstate 80. With the circulation of the MAPF initiative that would change the general plan and limit development north of I-80 on Planned Community 2, Cross said development will have to be located downtown.

“With the initiative and the possibility that PC-2 will no longer be a viable location for auto-oriented, commercial serving development, that development will have no other place to locate but in the downtown,” Cross said, adding the draft DSP does not address that issue. “Why bother circulating a document that doesn’t have any meaning?

“My point is to say it is premature to take this document any farther until you have identified the impacts of PC-2 not being a viable development.”

Councilmember Don McCormack said the issue of Barsell and its land uses can be dealt with as the Zoning Ordinance and Development Code volume of the DSP is completed. Otherwise, incentives in the draft DSP addresses the issue.

“Most of the changes you would like to see deal with mixed uses,” McCormack said. “At this point, for the release of this document, the incentives deal with it.

“I am for going ahead at this point and seeing where it takes us.”


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