By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A controversial $3.5 million plan to narrow Cotati’s main street to two lanes with two roundabouts is headed to the City Council.
“The question is cost, safety and aesthetics, and the Village Mainstreet concept hits all three criteria,” said Planning Commissioner Tim Ritter, using the name given to the street plan.
The redesign of the short stretch of Old Redwood Highway was proposed by city staff as part of a long-sought overhaul of the city’s commercial center. It was opposed by Oliver’s Markets and other downtown merchants who say the plan would hurt their businesses by constricting traffic.
Planning commissioners unanimously approved the proposal late Thursday night after a lengthy hearing.
The city’s plan for the street originally called for four lanes with traffic lights, which most merchants prefer. But it was changed, said Community Development Director Vicki Parker, when it became clear that it would not fulfill residents’ “vision” of safer streets that preserve a small-town character and also boost the economy.
Some business people acknowledged that they weren’t sure what the right choice is, but said that their livelihoods were at stake if the two-lane road proved unworkable. Others, though, were certain the design was the right type of improvement for a small town that wants to remain that way.
“It would be a nicer downtown, like Petaluma, Railroad Square or Healdsburg,” said Hub Cyclery owner Claire Fetrow.
A representative of the downtown’s newest business, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, also argued for the Village Mainstreet, which the city says would keep speeds on the street to 25 mph.
“All retail gains a lot from the whole impulse (shopping) factor that you get when traffic slows down,” said Carol Mazzetti, Peet’s real estate director. “It’s what keeps people in their towns and out of malls.”
About two dozen residents and merchants spoke for and against the plan, which the City Council needs to approve. If the council does that, Oliver’s Markets has threatened to shelve its plans, announced in June, to build a 76,000-square-foot mixed-use shopping center.
Oliver’s officials have said the two-lane road would not allow for enough future-growth traffic.
After Thursday’s meeting, Oliver’s general manager, Tom Scott, said, “We’re in the same place. We have to see it out. We respect the process.”
The company had submitted two alternative street plans — one a variation of a two-lane road, the other of the city’s original four-lane design.
At Commissioner Ben Ford’s request, the commission directed city staff to see if the two-lane design could be altered to allow for more traffic at the street’s north end, near Oliver’s proposed store.
Parker said that would occur if the council adopts the plan, a step that most expect will happen.
“We will work with Oliver’s” and other property owners “to see if there are efficiencies we’ve overlooked so we can expand,” she said.
The issue is not yet on the council’s calendar.