YOLO SUN OPINION :
Woodland Planning Commission will consider at its meeting of November 18 the subject of project “design review” for proposed development of a Chase Bank branch location at 304 Main Street, upon the long-vacant lot on the southeast corner of Main and Walnut Streets — adjacent to State Theatre — now the subject of extensive development consideration by the City’s Redevelopment Agency.
Intense interest, agitation and related controversies are presently roiling through Woodland regarding the fate of the historic State Theatre (- please see: http://friendsofstatetheatre.org as well as recent Yolo Sun articles -) — which this proposed Chase Bank development would hugely affect, because this long-vacant lot has been specifically understood — within decades-long city planning options — as crucial for its renovation and expansion.
This location is also referred to within pertinent municipal documents and the associated staff report on this agenda item, as being the: “Western Gateway” to Woodland’s downtown area.
Very recently, representatives of Chase Bank have become somewhat responsive toward considering expressed community concerns about this particular location of its new branch.
However, Chase Bank remains durably engaged — at this November 18 meeting — in obtaining relevant approval through city planning process for its currently cast project — as an “allowed” use. Relevant municipal planning “Policies and Standards” designates “Financial Institutions” as a “conditionally allowed use” in the downtown area, related to configuration of “drive-thru” features.
Approval and location of this branch of Chase Bank will result in a significant civic disaster — compound subversions / violations of various, long-standing and prominent municipal goals / plans for Woodland’s downtown area — only one of which is State Theatre renovation and expansion.
____ Cinema Goals Of Downtown Specific Plan: Failed ____
Woodland Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) has basic “goals, plan concepts [and] guidelines.” Relevant “goals” are: “Develop a plan that has a clear vision for where the downtown should be in the future;” and: “Develop a plan that is action-oriented to ensure the desired results.”
As for the DSP component / opportunity for a downtown cineplex, these fundamental goals are in virtual chaos, totally unmet, flatly failing to “ensure” its “vision.”
If the 2003 version of the DSP ever had a “clear vision” for a downtown cineplex, it was (quite intentionally) the wrong vision. This is now very clear from its pertinent examination and elucidation (- please see most recent series of (five) Yolo Sun articles, following immediately below on this scroll -).
Submerging and unjustifiably disinclining State Theatre renovation prospects at its very outset: “new development replacing the auto dealership that moved to the City’s new auto mall [ ] includes a range of small retail uses and a cinema complex offering first-run movies [ ] facing onto a plaza bordered by a new food court [near] a new public parking structure,” announces the opening — “Vision” statement — of the 2003 DSP — obviously describing Paul Petrovich’s proposed “Cinema / Theater Square” project.
“[T]he City’s new auto mall” never happened because it was converted by Petrovich (with municipal approval) into a very badly designed strip-mall on steroids, the so-called: “Gateway Center;” wherein shoppers must usually navigate a vast and sprawling sea of asphalt between their various destinations.
Also, instead of assisting downtown development, Petrovich’s conversion of land use served to exacerbate peripheral sprawl of the community’s retail uses to the direct disadvantage of downtown businesses; plus, compounding this injury to the downtown area is the fact of city council allowance of seventy-eight months (six and a half years) for Petrovich to somehow mitigate these deleterious impacts.
“[T]he auto dealership” (Hoblit Chrysler-Dodge) has never become relocated in order to properly move forward this 2003 DSP-planned (favored and “prioritized”) cineplex — directly risking loss of a key community business creating over $300,000 of sales tax revenue and more than 40 local jobs.
In fact, “the auto dealership” must now temporarily relocate — perhaps at Woodland Redevelopment Agency expense — because of increasing instability of its tenancy directly resulting from planning chaos created by distracted, incoherent and deliberately distorted cineplex elements of the 2003 DSP.
Plus, such lengthy and profoundly counterproductive diversion from State Theatre renovation and expansion — now jeopardizes this pivotal, “recommended project” opportunity due to sudden planning issues related to Chase Bank.
After almost twenty years of this community patiently waiting — Chase Bank suddenly scoops-up this key property mere weeks ahead of the proposed State Theatre project — which has been delayed city approval because of an essentially fraudulent competition with the 2003 DSP’s “priority recommended project,” regarding which Petrovich has now defaulted.
Does this planning path — with “clear vision [ ] ensure” properly stated goals of the DSP?
Of course not; it has entirely failed to successfully promote and achieve these basic goals for a downtown cineplex.
Only vigorous and devoted community activism has “ensure[d] that the (truly) “clear vision” of State Theatre renovation and expansion is now — solidly available — to move forward Woodland’s primary (downtown) redevelopment goal.
The State Theatre project must immediately move ahead. It is clearly: “appropriate and compatible with the historic quality of the community” (an “Objective” of DSP “Design Guidelines; please see further below).
This is the first strong reason for city planning commissioners to Deny this Chase Bank project, upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design,” because it is intrinsically not: “appropriate and compatible with the historic quality of the community,” since it inherently jeopardizes renovation and expansion of the historic State Theatre.
____ Numerous DSP Failures Result From Chase Bank Project ____
This Chase Bank project not only unhinges State Theatre renovation and expansion, it also has a substantially negative, incongruous affect upon various other primary features of the DSP.
DSP: “Guiding Principles” include the “Plan Concept” of “Economic Viability,” which states that: “The main purpose of this plan [is] to create an economically viable Downtown. To this end, the Specific Plan proposes to intensify office and residential uses[,] which will in turn support a range of new [ ] establishments[.] The concentration of entertainment opportunities in the Downtown area will also support these [ ] establishments[.]”
“[R]esidential uses” — especially — demand “intensif[ication].”
No residential uses accompany this Chase Bank project, which essentially and abruptly displaces another primary: “recommended project” of the DSP (illuminated in larger scope of detail, further below).
Losing valuable (irreplaceable) multi-story, mixed-use opportunities inherent within this — cornerstone lot — and adjacent parcels of Woodland’s “Western Gateway” to its downtown area — constitutes a second strong reason for planning commissioners to Deny this Chase Bank project, directly based upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design.”
____ DSP “Guiding Principles” Realize Importance of “Edges” ____
“[T]reatment of the edges of a downtown area are important in terms of perception of its overall physical environment and land use compatibility,” emphasizes DSP “Guiding Principles.”
Although the eastern edge of the downtown area “forms a definite boundary” at East Street: “The west edge of the Downtown has a less defined boundary since the adjoining land uses along Main and Cleveland Streets are more compatible with the anticipated Downtown development.”
In other words, recognizes the DSP: the three (3) banks, multiple banks already occupying Main and Cleveland Streets clearly lack the character / nature of “defin[ition]” required by a Downtown Gateway.
While this Chase Bank project is proposed to be as high as a two-story building (DSP requirement) — it has in reality only one (lame) story.
Obviously, an — actual — multi-story, mixed-use building would much better utilize valuable (quite finite) undeveloped land within the core of the downtown corridor and provide the genuine “definition” / “anchor” of a Downtown Gateway — than does this Chase Bank project.
Real gravity from greater — useable / dynamic mass — within new downtown edifices is mandatory for pumping vitality into the downtown area — not airy, vaulted (faux) architecture arranged to mask fundamental planning inadequacies of: “single-story, high-ceilinged commercial buildings.”
The DSP contains discretionary authority to approve such inadequate projects based upon this sort of — architectural masquerade — but that especially doesn’t mean this authority should always be used.
This authority is intended to be a flexible avenue occasionally available to promote adherence to historical scale and style within the downtown area — it should not be used, as here, in a knee-jerk fashion to approve architectural inadequacies which gravely subvert salient goals of the DSP.
Unless located within an authentically multi-story, mixed-use building, a regular (full-service) bank simply doesn’t measure-up, in terms of “anchoring” our Downtown Gateways.
The Wiseman Building is a comparable example. If Chase Bank wants to build something akin to this edifice and occupy part of the ground floor, perhaps such a significant project deserves serious consideration; perhaps, adjustments might be made.
But even a frilly, gussied-up (full service) bank and its architecturally veneered parking lot and drive-thru feature — plainly does not possess the dynamic gravity imperative for a genuine Downtown Gateway.
Thus, we have a third strong reason for planning commissioners to Deny this Chase Bank project — directly based upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design.”
____ Private Parking Lot Within Core Downtown Corridor? ____
The actual footprint of this bank (not easily discernable within staff report) covers only a small portion (~ 4000 sq. ft.) of the available land at this site, squandering the majority of land as just another expansive private parking lot.
The “Street Orientation” portion of the “Site Planning” section of DSP “Design Guidelines” states that:
“Surface parking lots shall not be placed along Main Street.”
Baffling (supposedly) this important downtown planning imperative, Chase Bank disguises its huge parking lot with an elaborate drive-through facility and copious architectural adornment (demanded by planning staff).
However, this basic fact remains — the vast majority of land on this prime (precious) and undeveloped downtown site will become fully devoted to sheer automobile convenience of Chase Bank’s patrons.
Not pouring added asphalt recklessly upon — choice downtown areas — and wastefully locating parking uses directly along / within the prime downtown land-use corridor — is the pure policy thrust of the stark requirement in the DSP “Design Guidelines” that these uses — “shall not be placed along Main Street.”
Surely, this DSP requirement contemplates that the most valuable urban land – located between Main Street and the respective alleys — “not be” used for parking lots (nor drive-thru facilities, for that matter).
Approving Chase Bank’s circumvention of this DSP guideline is enormously ill-advised. Masquerading parking lots are distinctly inadvisable within this apex zone of downtown land use.
We have now discovered four strong reasons for planning commissioners to Deny this Chase Bank project — directly based upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design.”
____ Chase Bank Pushes New State Theatre Into Buffer Zone ____
“The most sensitive transition is [the ‘buffer zone’] between the Downtown development and single-family residential neighborhoods[,]” according to DSP “Guiding Principles.”
Approving this Chase Bank project will essentially shove the impending State Theatre renovation and expansion project into commercially developing and utilizing more land closer to residential uses, contrary to current, general DSP intent.
Protection of the — ‘buffer zone’ — between downtown commercial and residential uses is a fifth strong reason for planning commissioners to Deny this Chase Bank project (upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design”).
____ Chase Bank Subverts Broadly Important DSP Goals ____
Primary within intentions of DSP “Guiding Principles” is: “to provide housing opportunities in the Downtown that will bring people to Main Street on a 24-hour basis.”
Woodland General Plan Goal 9.C.4: “To implement the Downtown Specific Plan, especially as it relates to economic development[, by] the City shall actively pursu[ing] the creation of significant new housing opportunities within the Downtown Central Business District.”
As noted above, this Chase Bank project does not include housing.
The “Economic Development” portion of the “Policies and Standards” section of the DSP states: “The City shall strive to maintain a diverse downtown by increasing residential uses along Main Street, increasing office opportunities, expanding entertainment venues, [i]ncreasing tourism and other currently underdeveloped economic activities.”
Banks are only a slim slice of this broad diversity — and absolutely don’t need to command a massive and fancy downtown bunker — upon a long-anticipated, primary planning site.
The “Land Uses” portion of the “Policies and Standards” section of the DSP announces that: “The City shall provide infill incentives to encourage appropriate use of vacant lots.”
This Chase Bank project should be provided with the valuable incentive of Woodland Redevelopment Agency help with relocating their branch bank.
____ Relevant Example of Broadly Important DSP Goals ____
The “Actions” section of the DSP contains a “recommended project / opportunity” for this time-period (2008-2013), adjacent to State Theatre, a “Mixed-Use Commercial / Residential Building” (Project Number 102), describing that: “The City will encourage and facilitate the development of a two- to three-story mixed-use residential and commercial building on the southern half of the block on Main Street between Walnut and Elm Streets. The building will consist of ground-floor retail commercial uses and offices with residential uses on the second and third floors.”
A long list of very important: “Benefits” from this project, include: “increas[ed economic] viability, [ ] affordable housing[,] better support [for] transit opportunities[,] enhance[ment] of public safety by providing more “eyes on the street[,”] patronage for retail and restaurant uses in the Downtown[,] exten[sion of] the historic downtown design [ ] multi-story buildings[,] potential signature building at the western gateway.”
This specific project apparently contemplated Elm Ford (hopefully, always an important downtown fixture) moving to Petrovich’s auto-mall that never appeared.
It for this reason all the more essential that the available (largely undeveloped) land remaining, bounded by Walnut and Elm Streets, and from Court Street past Dog Gone Alley, be best planned and developed — optimized — it is the “Western Gateway” to Woodland’s downtown area, already (presumably) set with an historic expansion one of its historic jewels: State Theatre.
____ Great Depression To Great Recession: Renaissance Motif ____
State Theatre was built during the Great Depression and it must be restored during the Great Recession.
Such a saga signifies a splendid local renaissance. State Theatre was erected at a time when Woodland was, per capita, one of the richest cities in the United States and a thoroughly vital community within this region.
Banks were culpable for both of these economic catastrophes, and Woodlanders don’t desire a — bank — making a mess of what is hoped to eventually become such a community — renaissance — a celebration to historically invigorate itself around a restored municipal landmark, during these later times of economic calamity and challenge.
The DSP “Guiding Principles” section concludes with the following paragraph:
“As a social location, while the Opera House and the movie theater do serve some of the cultural and entertainment needs of the community, they are not enough to create the critical mass of activities that will serve to energize the Downtown with community activity.
“The Downtown needs more restaurants, theaters, and nightspots to bring life back into the Downtown,” the “Guiding Principles” insist.
What Woodland’s downtown area does not need is another conventional bank, here suddenly plopping down on, squatting upon — the key corner — of its “Western Gateway” to downtown — next to historic State Theatre, which deserves ample room to stretch out a bit if it is to be best both preserved and augmented.
Chase Bank cannot callously shove aside these various — primary “goals and principles” of the DSP — using a regular (effectively) one-story branch & drive-thru – parking lot zone — however it may be gilded and embellished with faux / hybrid architectural features, deviously ensconcing its huge parking lot within a drive-thru facade, attempting to evade important DSP protocols.
This Chase Bank project is an unnecessary and badly cast intrusion into exhaustible downtown (undeveloped) real-estate, potentially useable for much more “beneficial” purposes — such as three-story, mixed-use buildings that truly complement State Theatre and other “diverse” downtown enterprises.
Three other banks already exist within a block of this location, which ranks as perhaps the most significant parcel within a pivotal, anchor-building zone of the most civically valuable, undeveloped land within Woodland’s downtown area.
To allow a regular (yet, architecturally cosmetic) bank to prance into this dense patch of civic promise, rich with this community’s future — is a very serious mistake.
Planning commissioners have within this broadly diverse context a sixth (extremely) strong reason to disapprove this Chase Bank project, directly based upon relevant grounds of: “architectural building design.”
____ Planning Commission Should Deny Chase Bank Project ____
Design review / guideline “Objectives” of the DSP related to this proposed bank location are addressed within an accompanying staff report, describing both: land use / operational elements related to “performance standards” — and — architectural features intended to satisfy this particular (design compatibility) aspect of the proposed development:
“To promote improvements which are appropriate and compatible with the historic quality of the community; To stimulate high-quality design, encourage creativity and diversity, and improve impressions of the Downtown area.”
This Chase Bank project utterly fails to satisfy this criteria, because its — “architectural building design” — plainly lacks historical, architectural (including land use) qualities of — “creativity and diversity” — the dynamic gravity possessed by a multi-story, mixed-use building — imperative for the “Western Gateway” of the downtown area — and because it blatantly contravenes the DSP prohibition against surface parking lots being located along the core of the Main Street corridor.
This Chase Bank project completely fails to satisfy this criteria, because its — “architectural building design” is not “appropriate and compatible with the historic quality of the community,” since it grossly inhibits redevelopment of State Theatre and is a sorely inadequate use of a prominent, indeed pivotal downtown parcel — and because it blatantly contravenes the DSP prohibition against surface parking lots being located along the core of the Main Street corridor.
This Chase Bank project subverts numerous significant goals and principles of the DSP — related to both “architectural building design” and land use (as noted above).
____ Process Of Project Denial ____
The DSP generally requires a Conditional Use Permit process (CUP) for such a bank project, aside a — fully discretionary — program of “conditionally allowed use” being subject to various — “performance standards,” in such cases pertaining to orientation and operation of “drive-thru” facilities.
This program is intended to facilitate planning accord through complete satisfaction of relevant “performance standards” — which then: “may allow[ ] a project to be processed as an allowed use instead of as a CUP, subject to review and additional conditions[,]” (emphasis added).
“Performance standards” within the CUP process are primarily related to — land use / operational matters — rather than (architectural) design review. Thus, a wide scope of consideration, relevant to both land use and architectural elements, is obviously essential to this planning process.
No perfect formula for project approval binds the city in this regard. Clearly, there is — no DSP requirement / mandate — that satisfaction of relevant “performance standards,” etc., — whether pertinent to architecture or land use — establishes automatic approval of this project as an allowed use.
“Findings Of Fact” upon which to predicate denial of the “architectural building design” of this Chase Bank project are relatively simple: its high-ceilinged, one-story bank building is grossly inadequate in terms of various design guideline “Objectives” (above) and it violates the DSP proscription against parking lots being located within this downtown zone.
Therefore, Woodland Planning Commission, upon the solid basis of six strong reasons presented above, should act to Deny this Chase Bank project.