By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cotati residents packed City Hall on Tuesday to weigh in on proposals to transform the city’s downtown and revitalize its economy. The issue, which had become the latest controversy in a community that has seen its share, produced a three-hour, considered conversation.
Plans to refashion the small downtown — the work would happen on a stretch of Old Redwood Highway less than a half-mile long — have been under way for more than a decade and have involved dozens of public meetings. The result has been two proposals, one for a two-lane street with two roundabouts, another for a four-lane road with traffic signals.
The choice the city makes will define its northern entrance, which is its chief commercial strip, and “set the stage for development of that area for the next 20 to 30 years,” City Manager Dianne Thompson told the more than 100 people in the audience.
It was an informational meeting only. The proposals go to the city’s Planning Commission Nov. 17.
A number of Cotati merchants — most prominently the owners of Oliver’s Market — have come out against the city’s favored proposal, the two-lane version with roundabouts.
But on Tuesday, Hub Cyclery owner Claire Fetrow, who supports that plan, said “business owners come and go, but what we do, it will be a legacy of this time and the choices people make now.”
Oliver’s Market, one of the city’s biggest employers, announced in June its plans to move downtown and develop a shopping plaza there. But once the street proposals became public, company officials said the two-lane version didn’t allow for enough traffic to support the store, and that they would reverse course if the city proceeded with that option.
“The driving issue for Oliver’s is they’re investing 14 or 15 million in a store they’re going to have for 40 to 50 years,” the company’s architect, Randy Figueiredo, said Tuesday.
“We’re hesitant to move forward if we’re not comfortable with the traffic capacities on the road,” he said.
The city’s terms for the two alternatives frame them as very different visions for Cotati.
The one with roundabouts and two lanes is called Village Mainstreet and is designed for speeds of 25 mph. It would reduce traffic accidents by 51 percent, according to the city.
The other, with four lanes and designed for 40 mph, is called City Boulevard and would not change the incidence of accidents, the city says.
“It’s a fundamental question of character, what the community wants to see,” city engineer Damien O’Bid said.
The two-lane version would cost $3.5 million, financed by transportation grants and redevelopment funds, and would take a year to complete, O’Bid said. The other plan would cost $4.7 million and take two years.
City leaders and residents have been calling for years for a redesign of some sort for the stretch of Old Redwood Highway, saying it needs to happen to spur economic growth. Ironically, the news of Oliver’s plans to move there was greeted as a potentially key development in that effort.
Regardless of what Oliver’s does, the street needs to be transformed in order to redefine it as a downtown and a business community, some speakers said Tuesday.
“It’s embarrassing to go down the corridor, looking at the buildings, looking at the street,” said Mike Pastryk, owner of Liberty Valley Doors on Highway 116.
On Tuesday, O’Bid presented a plan the company had come up with, which included a larger roundabout in front of the proposed store and wider lanes.
“We’re part of this town and we want to be part of a solution,” said Tom Scott, Oliver’s general manager.