After viewing a presentation and discussing aspects of the proposed village design plan for the Paseo area of Ramona, members of the Village Design Group, Design Review Board and Community Planning Group voted to “support the concept of the plan presented and to move forward.”
The three groups, along with members of other community organizations attended a joint meeting Sept. 17 in the community center. Howard Blackson of Placemakers, who was hired by the county for this project, gave an overview of the ideas that resulted from the three-day design workshop in August.
Village Design Group Chairman Rob Lewallen opened the meeting saying, “This is a very pivotal night for the future of Ramona.”
Lewallen explained that, due to the annual fair and vacations, many of the members were unable to attend the workshop in August so the joint meeting was being held to have greater representation of the community and to offer the opportunity for input regarding the proposed plan.
“Through this process we have the wonderful opportunity to create Ramona-specific custom-tailored zoning for our town,” said Lewallen.
Blackson and Placemakers specialize in using form-based codes that address the physical form of building and development to create character in a community.
The village design plan focuses on the Paseo area of town, from 10th to Pala streets.
“We like the Paseo area because we think it’s your future,” said Blackson, noting that it offers the town’s next 20 to 40 years of development.
“This is where most current activity is happening,” Lewallen said.
He mentioned the building of a new library, the RICC (Ramona Intergenerational Community Center), Palomar Pomerado Health facility, and a new drugstore.
Greg Roberson, a member of the village design group and the design review board, said he liked the fact that when using form-based codes, the concern isn’t so much about the type of business but instead how it should look and conform to the neighborhood.
“That to me was such a critical factor. One, it helped us to zero in on what the community should look like,” Roberson said.
The other benefit, he said, is that for a developer wanting to build a shopping center, the codes make the process easier because the developer will know the architectural look allowed.
Blackson said the codes give the community the predictability of knowing what to expect and they give the developers the predictability of what they are expected to build.
Raising the issue of mixed use zoning, Blackson said in the past it used to indicate either residential or commercial zoning. Blackson said when he talks about mixed use, he is referring to a combination of retail, office and residential spaces.
“It’s mixing of uses, not choosing of uses,” he said. Downtown buildings on Main Street could have office or retail space on the first level and residential above. For elderly people who can’t take care of a yard, young couples who can’t afford a large lot, or for people who want to stay in town, this would offer a residential solution, he said.
Diane Conklin, president of the Ramona Tree Trust, said the issue of mixed use with residences above commercial space downtown makes a lot of sense.
“You have to have mixed use in order to have a human society,” Conklin said.
Conklin acknowledged she likes the form-based codes, which she said are not new and have been used in Europe for a very long time.
Noting that she has lived in Europe, Conklin also addressed traffic issues, saying that “the traffic calming I’ve seen in Germany is so intense.” Conklin went on to explain that in Germany, some side streets have islands installed in the center to slow down traffic. Trees are planted on these islands, she said.
“I think any median definitely should include vegetation,” Conklin added.
Blackson said the plan is to make Main Street more pedestrian-friendly, but, becauase Ramona’s Main Street is a state highway, to do so they have to engage Caltrans. He showed a visual simulation of a tree-lined raised median on Main Street. This, he said, could be used as a ceremonial entrance, welcoming people to town. Doing so could help retail, he pointed out.
With so many people driving through Ramona on the way to Julian or the desert, Blackson said if the town can capture those drivers to spend time, they will spend money.
“Your character will help bring in economic development,” he said.
Identifying wine as a great cottage industry for Ramona, Blackson said, “Your wine is going to actually be a very important economic driver for what you’re doing.”
At the workshop, the idea for “Equine and Dine” facilities along the creek was discussed, Blackson said. It would be an area where local and out-of-town people could meet. The equine and dine could consist of a conference center, a restaurant and a place for private wine collections. A trail along the creek would allow people to ride horses and stop to eat at the restaurant or have a glass of wine.
After presenting the ideas from the workshop and the sketches and plans developed during the past two months, Blackson said they needed a consensus as to whether this is the right direction for Ramona and the future of the town. If so, then the community plan needs to be in conformance with the design plans, he said. The community plan is in the county general plan, which has the opportunity to do the place-based codes, he added.
Village Design Vice Chair Carol Fowler said the group sped up the work on the design plans to get it into the general plan. The county’s general plan update is scheduled to go to the board of supervisors for adoption in fall 2010.
Although some members questioned whether the county will go along with these plans, Blackson said, “The county is actually listening. Here’s why: Character is so important for these towns.”
Blackson listed Fallbrook, Alpine and Harmony Grove as other towns in which character can play a vital role.
“If you agree it works, you can leverage this into being something you want for your town, and others will learn from it,” said Blackson.