At the final presentation of the recent three-day village design workshop, Ramona Village Design Committee Chairman Rob Lewallen described a mood of “general excitement” and said, “I think we have more of a chance of getting somewhere than ever before.”
The workshop was conducted by consultant Howard Blackson of Placemakers and his coding team of Architect Leo Casas (town architect for Seaside, Fla.), and three designers. All were hired by the county for Ramona’s Phase II village design plan. Placemakers specializes in using form-based codes when working with communities.
Over the course of three days, Aug. 6, 7 and 8, the team met with the Ramona Village Design Committee, members of the Ramona Community Planning Group and people representing the Ramona Design Review Board, planning group’s Trails & Transportation Subcommittee, the Ramona Intergenerational Community Center (RICC), Palomar Pomerado Hospital, Ramona Chamber of Commerce, Ramona Municipal Water District Board, Ramona Unified School District Board, retailers, churches, wineries, the community gardens, Ramona Senior center and the high school.
From the meetings and discussions, the coding team created drawings of facades on Main Street and bird’s-eye views of downtown blocks and parks, which were displayed on easels at the presentation.
In the back of the room were enlarged photos, some of which depicted downtown Main Street as it is now and how it would look with a tree-lined raised median in the middle of the street.
The village design committee designated three sections of downtown Ramona: Old Town, Paseo and the Colonnade. While the focus of the workshop was on the Paseo area of town, from 10th to Pala streets, the workshop also addressed Ramona amenities such as the buildings in Old Town, the Santa Maria Creek, the local wineries, the horse properties, and the character of the town.
Blackson explained that the Paseo area was chosen because it has Main Street, the creek and some rural areas.
“You have the whole spectrum of Ramona in this one area,” he said. “My job is to give your town a template so that you can do it in the Colonnade, you can do it in Old Town, you can do it in other places.”
Blackson introduced Mark Smith, a market research analyst and developer with Urban Betterment Company in Bermuda Dunes. Smith said he had driven through Ramona many times but had become familiar with it during the three-day workshop. Referring to the character of Ramona, he said, “You have something that has value. “
After reviewing studies done in the past few years, he said what pops out are the “history, character and people of Ramona.”
Many towns in the county, he said, have lost their character.
“Your character is threatened right now,” he said, pointing out that the Paseo area is turning into more of a suburban sprawl.
Addressing the possibility of a community shopping center with a big box store, Smith said such a store is not totally bad because it represents economic power. Right now, he said, people are going to Poway to shop.
“Poway is a great town,” he said, “but I don’t think you want to become Poway.”
Instead of a developer building a big box store on the outskirts of town, Blackson said, “We feel on Main Street you could actually have a full block with your Target or Kohl’s or whatever.”
The store doesn’t need to look like a big box store, he said.
“Instead of having liner buildings out in front, attach them to the big blank walls,” Blackson said.
A building with windows and doors fronting the street provides much more of a town center quality, he added, and suggested putting parking or a garden center on top of the building, something he said has been done in many places.
“A pedestrian-friendly, urbanistic approach is what you want to do,” said Smith. “It will complement what you already have.”
What you don’t want to do, he added, is to let a development dilute the town center and the rural character of horse properties and wineries. Having a set of design standards, he said, will make it easier to know what locations the town wants developed.
Smith said Ramona is in an urban growth cycle, but “you’re early in it and have a chance to control your destiny.”
Blackson noted that the natural and rural lands and the town center define Ramona. The team, he said, went through the town, looking at two- and four-acre rural lands; then moving toward the town, looked at medium-sized lots with mostly single-family homes; then to neighborhoods where there was a mix of single-family homes, churches and offices; and finally to the town center.
Blackson showed slides of Petaluma, which used form-based codes to develop a new downtown. During one session of the workshop, those attending talked about places they thought were nice, such as Sedona and Carmel, which has trees along its Main Street. They talked about awnings in front of some of the stores to protect people from the sun.
Ownership and “mixed use” were also discussed, Blackson said, explaining his definition of mixed use.
“Mixed use is not the same when I say it, that you’ve lived with for 30 years,” he said and referred to the apartment blocks that were built by the creek in Ramona. They were the result of zoning that allowed for different uses, such as commercial, industrial or residential, he explained.
“That’s not a mix, that’s a choice,” he said.
As an example of his definition of mixed use, Blackson pointed to a slide of a downtown building with different tenants. Noting that a lawyer bought his unit, Blackson said the lawyer has a reception area and office on the ground floor and lives in a unit above it. Other tenants used their ground floor space for businesses and lived above their offices or shops with 2,500 square feet of living space, along with storage and a garage.
“It is not an apartment, the way you all know apartments,” he said. “So when I said the word ‘mixed use,’ and when you said the word ‘mixed use,’ we weren’t talking about the same thing at all. You should be able to work and live near your home.”
Blackson mentioned Coronado as a good example of one- and two-story buildings in the downtown area. Ramona’s Main Street, he said, could have more one- and two-story buildings with alleyways leading to parking in the back.
Noting that parking has been a problem in Old Town, Blackson said, “parking is as important as the building.”
Now, he said, residents often have to park at the edge of a block and walk down the block to get to a business. He proposed parking lots behind the stores with access within the block to the street. He showed a drawing depicting two-story buildings and an open-arched area mid-block that would allow people to drive through to get to the parking lot behind the stores.
Posting signs that would direct drivers to parking would allow for a managed parking system, he said. “Right now you have no predictability where parking is.”
Other signage Blackson would like to see would be some forms of “Welcome” signs. When people come for wine tasting tours, they would know there is more to do, such as riding horses and shopping, he said, adding “You know you’ve arrived at a place.”
Noting that Ramona has a lot of open space but lacks formal open space, Blackson said the RICC is a great opportunity for the Paso area. In addition to a new library, RICC proponents have discussed, among other ideas, a senior center, youth center, daycare center and skateboard park along Main Street from 12th to 13th streets and two blocks deep.
Blackson addressed the Santa Maria Creek.
“We really think your creek is a great amenity,” he said. “We also think your wine is a great new feature.”
Suggesting houses be built facing the creek, Blackson said a multi-purpose trail could be created along the creek.
An idea that was proposed was “equine and dine.” With a horse trail, walking trail and a spot for car accessibility, he said, it would be a place where people could keep their private wine collection, have dinner with guests, and have conferences and meetings. There could be “wine cellars in a nice place that says here are the local wineries,” he said.
Lewallen said he and others were talking about having a hitching post in front of a restaurant along the trail where those riding horses could pull off the dusty trail and have a glass of wine.
Blackson agreed that is something that should be accentuated, but such an idea, as well as many of the other suggestions cannot be done with the current codes.
The form-based codes, he said, give the right rules and regulations to make Main Street, the neighborhoods, the rural areas and the natural features into the types of places that were discussed.
Instead of zoning, such as R-1, C-2, or I-3, there would be a code that is by place, he explained. Blackson said the code would say that what is done on a block on Main Street is different from what is done in a neighborhood, which is different from what is done at the creek edge, and which is different from the rural edge. The nice part, he said, is that it is all put into one code “which turns into Ramona character.”
Lewallen commented that he was really impressed with the work that had been done by the team and said, “I think these guys are on the right track, what do you all think?” Those attending agreed with applause. Lewallen also thanked Devon Muto, chief of the county’s department of planning and land use, who was in attendance.
Muto said he thought the workshop went well and the design plan is critical to the county’s general plan. He said he’d like to look at a broader area than Paseo, preferably the whole village.
According to Muto, the next steps will be getting drawings that are exact, showing them to different committees to see if the members are happy with the plans, and then taking the plans to Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
Because attendance was low at the final presentation, Blackson and Village Design Committee Vice Chair Carol Fowler talked about doing a similar presentation in one meeting to all the different committees and groups in Ramona.
About 20 people participated in each of the workshop sessions during the three days, with about 60 to 80 people participating overall, said Blackson. While he believes there were good groups attending the planning portions of the workshop, only about 25 people attended Saturday evening.
“My only regret is that more folks at these meetings didn’t come back,” he said.
“It would have been nice to have three to four hundred people tonight,” said Lewallen.
He told those present to talk to others about what has been done and to “keep this ball rolling.”