Old school planning
January 2, 2007
From Tahoe to Truckee, conversations about development touch on similar themes: Housing mix, pedestrian friendliness, less dependence on cars and a greater sense of community.
While projects are in varying stages of completion, all seek to create diverse, walkable, compact, mixed-use communities that can serve the needs of inhabitants in ways that are sustainable, affordable and economically viable.
Such is the idea behind New Urbanism, a planning concept for clustered, integrated communities in which families can work, shop and play within walking distance of their homes and friends.
Think Nevada City or Telluride or even Truckee of the past, when residents could still buy hardware and produce downtown.
It’s a lot to consider, but some regional planners say it’s not out of reach for the area.
“Ironically, this is the historic development pattern of the Sierra Nevada,” said Steve Frisch, vice president of programming for the Sierra Business Council. “Because of the constraints on the region, the vast majority of the (original) communities in the Sierra Nevada are New Urban. Think about Sutter Creek and downtown Auburn.”
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Coming back to a historic building pattern is necessary, Frisch said. It will increase the circulation of local dollars, foster more intimate social connections and support locals at all levels of the economic spectrum, he said.
It was for these reasons and more that Rick Holliday and his development company purchased Truckee’s railyard and set forth with a plan to build a multi-use community that extends Commercial Row into a livable locale.
“The downtown tends to cater more to tourism,” Holliday said. “The new property should try to connect some new development with the successful historic development and create a broader experience for local people.”
Such a place should include a theater, a bookstore, a market and high-density affordable housing, Holliday said, adding, however, that his vision is still not complete.
The Placer County Redevelopment Agency has also set forth to improve life on the lake through the $30 million Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project and a 10-year housing plan for the North Shore.
The improvement project, slated for 2008, will improve sidewalks, streets and bicycle lanes, add parking, lighting and landscaping, according to the agency.
The multifaceted housing plan includes housing rehabilitation and mixed-use development that caters to fixed-, low- and moderate-incomes.
Coming full circle will take the re-creation of “old” elements, such as daily social interactions and mom-and-pop stores lost along the way, Frisch said.
“New Urbanism connects people together and gives them the ability to feed off one another; it’s the investment broker and the new business incubator rubbing elbows on a regular basis,” Frisch said.
But growing Truckee and North Shore communities into self-sustaining joint entities is also going to take viable public transportation, which has been a sticking point for the region for years due to difficulties in planning and funding.
“It’s going to take vision, and money and grants,” said Jan Colyer, executive director of the Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association. “If you’re trying to get people out of their cars, they have to have a way to get between communities.”
Colyer’s grand vision for area transportation includes buses on main routes running for up to 18 hours a day, and mini-buses on smaller routes helping to fill the gaps.
The realization of that vision is a long way off, she said, but the wheels are turning.
“These concepts of New Urbanism, or community sustainability, are very positive and very good, but there is not a unified regional vision,” said Steve Teshara. “The community needs [of Kings Beach and Truckee] are not fundamentally different, but there is this mosaic of governmental jurisdictions and agencies that don’t lend themselves to coordinated planning efforts.”
Teshara, director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, has been at the forefront of regional planning meetings, brainstorm workshops and community forums. He said the elements of New Urbanism could be successful in nearly all the new projects being planned locally, but tying them all together will take increased effort from area movers and shakers.
“I think it would be a great undertaking for the combined local governments and community leaders to maybe have a meeting, and bring everyone together and ask how we are doing,” Teshara said. “We need to have everybody at the table.”