Monday, January 22, 2007

Classy Stretch Takes Shape

Classy Stretch Takes Shape
Opportunity Hill Plan Gaining Traction
By Jennifer Gentile/Staff Writer

Looking east from Wilson and East Main streets, The Opportunity Hill project in Vacaville is a plan to revitalize the historic area of East Main and Davis streets as well as Bush to Mason street area. The plan will include a mix of office, residential and commercial developments. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

It may be hard to picture now, but the time will come when people will eat, shop and live in the East Main Street and Bush Street areas of Vacaville - at least if the Housing and Redevelopment Agency's vision is realized.

These areas, just outside of the historic downtown, are the focus of the city's Opportunity Hill project. They include parcels between McClellan and Bush Streets, as well as others on the other side of McClellan between Mason Street and East Main Street.

The project has been in the works for about four years, according to Housing and Redevelopment Director Cyndi Johnston. In time, she explained that the plan is to make these areas an extension of downtown, with mixed-use, office, commercial and residential space.

"It's very exciting when you think about it because it could transform the area," Johnston said. "This is a project our (city) council has been very interested in; they've been very supportive of the whole idea."

Going beyond support, the council has listed the project in its 2005-2007 Strategic Plan. The plan outlines the city's goals and highlights projects that accomplish them.

For a number of years, the Redevelopment Agency has been approaching property owners in the area and negotiating for their parcels. Johnston said the Redevelopment Agency does not have the power of eminent domain and the property owners must be willing sellers.

The director added, "I'd say more than half of the land is currently vacant."

At a meeting Tuesday, council will be asked to approve the agency's acquisition of two more parcels in that area, 140 and 150 Depot St., which may or may not be incorporated into the project. On Jan. 12, council approved the acquisition of 130 Bush St., 207 McClellan St. and 719 Catherine St.

So far, Johnston said the agency has secured about 26 parcels in those focus areas. Another five to seven remain, she said, "that we would like to talk to willing sellers about."

As another facet of the project, the agency also secured $25,000 in Transportation for Livable Communities grant funding in 2005. That funding was used to gather input from 150 people about future development in the area.

Themes that emerged, Johnston said earlier this year, were the importance of mixed-use projects and the correct amount of parking. Some also said that the downtown does not feel finished.

The ideas and comments generated during the public input process are a "stepping stone for future funding possibilities," Johnston said. Other grants are offered through TLC for infrastructure, which the agency plans to pursue.

While many details of the project are unknown at this point, Johnston said there will be a focus on making the area pedestrian-friendly. The agency is adamant that the project should complement the main downtown and its historic character.

"When you're driving down Main Street, you don't want an abrupt change of architecture," said Brenda Clyma, who is also with the Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

Economic Development Director Mike Palombo said the project is "certainly a good redevelopment opportunity" and a chance to offer things that may not exist in other parts of downtown.

"Opportunity Hill is literally that," Palumbo said. "It is an opportunity to benefit the community."

Bob Vollmer of the Downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District is also enthusiastic about the possibilities. He added that traffic, an ever-present concern downtown, would have to be addressed as Opportunity Hill progresses.

"I hope we can keep giving input and being involved in the meetings," Vollmer said, adding, "Trust me, (the pro- ject) will be a benefit to our whole community."

Johnston said the agency is aiming to see some development begin in spring of 2008. In the less distant future, it will be issuing a request for proposals to find developers who "have the experience and proven expertise to do the kind of development we're looking at," Johnston said.

The public is also welcome to submit their suggestions, she said. The agency can be reached at 449-5660 or

Jennifer Gentile can be reached at

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