By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
One of the biggest companies in Cotati says it won’t move downtown and may leave the city if officials go ahead with a plan to redesign the main street.
“They’re going to have to decide what they want,” said Tom Scott, general manager of Oliver’s Market, which said in June it would move downtown from its longtime location on East Cotati Avenue.
The city, after more than a decade of discussion, has come up with a design that would narrow the stretch of Old Redwood Highway that runs through its downtown to two lanes from four and incorporate two roundabouts in the redesign.
The project would take a year to complete and cost $3.5 million, said City Manager Dianne Thompson.
It makes it safer for pedestrians, slows traffic, has additional parking and makes the street more attractive for visitors and residents, Thompson said.
“It is going to define the character of this part of town going forward for the next 30 years,” she said.
She described the project as a “catalyst” that will support existing merchants and attract new businesses to the city.
But Scott and other merchants already on Old Redwood Highway say the city’s plan will not accommodate an eventual increase in traffic, especially once the economy picks up, and that the roundabouts will present a problem for motorists.
Those factors will make it less appealing to people who might want to travel and stop to shop on the street, they say.
“To me, those plans are really not working for businesses,” said Neville Hormuz, owner of Loud & Clear, a music store on the north side of the street.
He and other business owners are designing an alternative that would be wider and roundabout-free, he said.
Oliver’s has planned an $18 million, mixed-use development for its property near the street’s intersection with Highway 116. The project would include apartments, office and retail space and the 40,000 square foot grocery.
But that’s off if the city decides to go with the current design, Scott said.
“We’ve told them that if they go with the roundabout situation, we’re going to walk away from our project,” he said.
If Oliver’s couldn’t then negotiate a lease with its landlord, something it has been trying to do for nearly four years, it would leave Cotati, Scott said.
“They’re in a tough spot. I think the city really has a decision to make about who they want to be and how they’re going to balance their need for tax revenues with being a small town,” Scott said.
Thompson said the roundabouts were designed carefully to accommodate and facilitate existing traffic flows, not inserted “just because we like roundabouts.”
Also, she said, the street’s maximum traffic capacity, determined by the intersections at East Cotati Avenue and Highway 116, and are not being altered.
She predicted that despite Oliver’s reaction the street project would be a success.
“Several developers have been in touch regarding our Northern Gateway for hotels, grocery stores and other uses. The city can’t control what individual businesses do, but we know that this site will make a successful location for some business.”
More information about the project is on Cotati’s website, www.ci.cotati.ca.us. The city’s design review committee takes it up Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in City Hall.