Archive » November 1, 2012
Buellton OKs plan to link centers
By Jeremy Foster, Staff writer
Help is on the way for drivers who are frustrated by the lack of linkage between the Buellton Town Center and River Oak Plaza.
At its Oct. 25 meeting, the Buellton City Council approved a plan that would construct two driveways that will allow drivers to cross between the two shopping centers without having to get on the highway.
The first driveway, known as “Opening A,” will be constructed between Albertsons and Sunrise Coffee, and “Opening B” will be located between Blockbuster and Tom’s Gas, according to the city manager, John Kunkel.
Opening B will route drivers one way, going west. The area is wide enough for two lanes, but the city decided to keep it single because contractors would have to remove a garbage enclosure, curbing and some electrical lines underneath, doubling the cost of the project.
Engineers estimate the project will cost nearly $103,000. The city added an extra 10% for potential overages. The loan could be forgiven, provided the openings are built to city specifications and remain open for traffic. In 2007, the project had a price tag of $217,000.
“Our engineers have worked very hard to reduce these costs,” Kunkel told the council.
City staff says the driveways between the centers will improve traffic circulation and boost business on both sides. “We believe it will open that area for more business, not only for now but in the future,” Kunkel said. “Two empty parcels on the east side (River Oak Plaza) are ripe for more development.
“Moreover, I think the area is becoming more and more of a traffic tangle,” he added. “If you’re on the east side and you want to go to the Town Center, it’s problematic. A lot of people are washed away toward Nielsen’s or El Rancho Market in Solvang. If there’s an opening there, we will pick up some of that leakage.”
Patti Wicks, owner of Pattibakes Bakery in the plaza, said the project would increase business and enhance the shopping experience for customers, as well as reducing the number of traffic accidents where drivers turn left onto Highway 246 from the driveway next to Burger King.
Councilman John Connolly enthusiastically supported the proposal. He said he understood the frustration over navigating between the shopping centers.
“It’s a bottle-neck,” he said. “The traffic has increased greatly and people coming through here wonder why there aren’t access points.”
Councilwoman Judith Dale said the project was long overdue.
“When I was campaigning two years ago, this was brought up numerous times when I was going door to door,” she said. She added that there is more urgency with the impending development of the Village Project across the highway, which she said will lead to more traffic along that strip of road.
The plan to ease traffic access between the Buellton Town Center and the properties to the east was first broached in 1995. The city’s planning director had expressed a “desire to have in place vehicular access improvements” at two locations, but the city could not get property owners to sign on.
Property owners expressed interest in the project four years later, and the plan was put before the city council, who directed the planning director to proceed with designs and a report for the proposed access points, but for reasons not specified in the city’s staff report, neither the report nor the preliminary designs were ever done.
In 2007, issues over conflict of interest arose during city council discussion of the project because councilman Ed Andrisek is employed at CVS in the Buellton Towner Center. The old plan was a city project, but the city will instead loan money to the participating property owners, which does not include the drug store. Still, at the recent meeting, Andrisek decided to abstain from voting.
Under the current loan contract, if the property owners decide to close an access point, they are required to pay back the loan in full.