The Buellton City Council and Planning Commission held a special joint meeting last Thursday evening to hear a review of the results of the Public Visioning process.

Susan Harden, Project Manager for RBF Consulting, presented the data that had been accumulated throughout the many workshops and meetings during the visioning and said her company had developed more than 200 pages of input from the community over the last five months. During that time, Harden and her team held four workshops in Buellton, as well as two youth workshops to gather input from Buellton residents and to determine what the community saw for the future of the city. The Council and Planning Commission agreed what an enjoyable and educational process it had been.

“It was interesting to hear some of the diversity that was out there,” council member Russ Hicks said of attending the various workshops. He added that he is looking forward to updating the design plans and zoning regulations so that the community, landowners and developers will have a clear and concise idea of what is allowed and what can and cannot be done in terms of future building.

In respect to planning and design changes, RBF’s report said, “Community members expressed a desire to retain and enhance the community character through architecture and planning. They also strongly want to improve the appearance of the existing neighborhoods and districts and increase livability.”

Some of the changes suggested were to revise the Community Design Guidelines, revise the Sign Title and Permitted Signs and Sign Standards sections of the city’s Municipal Code, and revise the Mixed Use Development Standards and Zoning Regulations in the city’s Municipal Code. It was also proposed to establish a Design Review Committee to review development proposals for conformance with design guidelines.

Additional goals that were recommended by RBF based on public input were to portray a positive image and brand for the City of Buellton. Residents suggested coming up with a logo or branding strategy for the city, as well as begin a marketing plan for ongoing promotion of Buellton. It was also suggested that city staff create a new staff position to act as the Community Engagement Officer, who would be given the responsibility of communications and outreach activities.

“The first step would be to generate a job description about all of the different things that person would be doing. We were coming at this from the angle that it’s not just about the Avenue, that it’s about everything that happening in the city,” Harden said. She added that it would be the Community Engagement Officer’s responsibility to make sure that information is getting out to the public about new projects or events.

Additional goals that were proposed from community responses were to expand opportunities for healthy and active living, as well as offer a variety of arts and culture opportunities. One idea from RBF’s report, for promoting active and healthy living was to, “Develop and implement a Bikeways and Pedestrian Master Plan that considers both recreational and commuter cycling and connections to other communities.”

It was also suggested that Buellton adopt a policy to develop a program to recruit healthy food providers to the area. To promote the arts, Buellton residents suggested displaying more local artwork around the city, and encouraging local businesses to display local artwork in their stores or restaurants.

Judy Stauffer of the Public Visioning Steering Committee asked the City Council to encourage citizens to get more involved in community events, as well as to promote more arts and festivals especially with the recent success of the Arts on the Avenue event.

One of the most discussed topics throughout the visioning process was promoting a vibrant downtown area. There were many ideas and suggestions on how to improve the Avenue of Flags as a downtown area and RBF’s report summarized them by saying, “Residents are keenly interested in having a vibrant downtown that serves as a community center and fosters a positive identity for Buellton. From cleaning up properties and planting trees to complete redesign of the Avenue of Flags roadways, their ideas are numerous.”

RBF suggested that the city council prepare a Downtown Specific Plan, conduct a feasibility study, assign economic development and redevelopment staff to oversee implementation of plans for the Avenue, and also form a downtown merchants association to undertake efforts such as joint marketing, cleanups and special events.

“The community has weighed in on the vision for the long-awaited downtown district, so it seems to me that now would be a good time to direct staff to begin preparing an RFP for an Avenue of Flags Downtown Specific Plan,” suggested Stauffer. Buellton Planning Director Marc Bierzinski told the council that the initial estimated cost for improvements to the Avenue could be $52 million. This includes the implementation of all discussed public improvements such as land acquisition, a US 101 hook ramp, a Damassa/Avenue roundabout, a pedestrian bridge over US 101, removal of northbound Avenue, Avenue curve, new street connections, new parking areas, park and trails, alleys and roads, Second/Avenue roundabout, downtown block with town square and intersection improvements at Avenue SR 246.

“We all know that this is going to take time, there is no doubt about it,” said Mayor Victoria Pointer. “But with the efforts of staff and with everyone’s momentum continuing, we will accomplish these things. But one thing I wanted to mention is that if nothing else, immediately, we are starting on cleaning up the Avenue.” The council directed city staff to continue to work the Steering Committee to prioritize the list of improvements for the Avenue, as well as to discuss the Downtown Specific Plan. After such meetings take place, staff is to come back to the council with further recommendations.