Carson officials eye impact of freeway
Linda Martin will soon be able to pour herself a cup of coffee in the morning, step out her front door, and walk over to her office a few feet away – an idea that is starting to appeal to many business owners and city officials in Carson City’s downtown district.
With the long-awaited completion of a freeway that promises to change the economic landscape of the downtown business area by redirecting thousands of cars, officials have started planning for the near future.
Former teacher Martin and her husband, Keith Martin, are realizing their dream at a property on East John Street with a combination house and business. They are excited that officials are considering more areas in the historic downtown area to begin mixing offices and shops with homes.
“Our dream was to live by our business,” Keith Martin said. “This is so thrilling to see what we wanted to do is now opening to others. To us, it’s just so cool that Carson is doing this and to be a part of it as normal mom- and-pops.”
The freeway is not the only reason redevelopment officials want to stimulate business opportunities downtown, but it will change the mix of traffic. Heavy trucks and commuters are expected to be replaced by visitors and shoppers.
Nevada Department of Transportation officials estimate that the 45,000 vehicles that take Carson Street downtown each day will decrease slightly when the freeway opens. Mike Lawson, NDOT traffic information division chief, expects 10,000 fewer cars will travel the stretch daily.
But in 25 years, that number is expected to be 45,000 a day as population increases and the economy changes, he said.
This week, Carson officials started seriously looking at ways to tailor city planning along Highway 50 East and downtown to shape how the city will react to the changes the freeway will bring.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors met with several city staff and community members to set goals. Many of them favor development of a comprehensive master plan for the city and adopting a second phase of the freeway agreement with the state, focused on the freeway’s completion.
Wednesday night, redevelopment officials held an open house with downtown residents and business owners to talk about rezoning. One of the challenges centers around how downtown will survive the building of the freeway.
Economic and redevelopment manager Joe McCarthy said the change of traffic through downtown will be an opportunity to do something special in the district. It will change the purpose of the streets from “people moving to people directing.”
“No one really understands what it’s really going to be like when they build the freeway,” McCarthy said. “What is it going to do to our downtown? That could have a tremendous impact.”
To stimulate the downtown economy, the city is thinking about allowing development of condos with retail shops in their downstairs floors, or bed-and-breakfasts and small grocery stores in the residential areas from Fleischmann Way to 10th Street and from Mountain to Stewart streets. Growth will go up and not out, in other words.
Some ideas might be to widen sidewalks, provide better lighting, close streets, or cut Carson Street to one lane each way, Williamson said. Another idea Wednesday was to turn Robinson Street from Carson to the Governor’s Mansion into a retail area.
The city will hold several community meetings, McCarthy said, to decide how the plan will work.
“Eventually, we’re going to pull the trigger on a plan, but we need it to be your plan, not ours,” McCarthy told the group.
Architect Arthur Hannafin of Hannafin Darney Architects in Carson City said he has been thinking about planning in downtown to stimulate economic growth for years. He has been on a committee planning for the completion of the freeway.
“I’m absolutely thrilled the bypass is moving ahead,” Hannafin said. The bypass and the move of businesses to Douglas County have given a new push to planning in the redevelopment area, he said.
He said he is an advocate of mixed-use zoning, but not for the entire redevelopment district downtown.
“Some of our most prized assets would be jeopardized. We have to move quietly and carefully. We want to make our downtown area more enriched and more vital,” Hannafin said.
Mayor Ray Masayko said it is time for the city to start planning for the freeway impacts and develop a comprehensive city master plan. Supervisors made it a top goal for the next year to begin a master plan project that will integrate several areas like economic vitality, parks and recreation, corporate land use, open space and other plans into one.
“With the freeway, that’s going to permanently change our landscape and retail hot spots,” Masayko said. “It’s time.”