Revamping downtown Carson City, step 2
Appeal Staff Writer
Supervisors will decide Thursday whether to change rules that govern the types of businesses that will be allowed in different parts of Carson City’s downtown.
The proposed zoning changes are the city’s next step in achieving the goal it presented to residents last year under a plan called Envision. Over decades, the plan is designed to revamp the downtown, making it more attractive to businesses, tourists and residents.
Thursday’s meeting will focus on a list of zoning changes more than two pages long. “Primary Permitted Uses” adds nearly 20 new ones.
For example, a downtown building owner would now be able to choose from a greater variety of uses, and would also be able to mix dwellings and retailing under the same roof. The city would retain the final say on what is necessary to make the use fit in a specific building, however.
Under current zoning, building owners are more limited in what they can do. Among uses that would be allowed without conditions: churches, new bars, hotels and farmers markets.
Landscaping will focus on pedestrian accessibility, while lighting and sign rules will remain the same.
The changes also stress the need to get more people living downtown to support the businesses. Some dwellings would be allowed within the new zoning, called the Downtown Mixed-Use District, though resident hotels would be considered “special uses” and would still require additional city review before being allowed.
While the zoning changes won’t allow business owners to do anything they want, it’s part of a string of improvements that officials, residents and people who own businesses and properties downtown started formulating about 18 months ago, when the city set out to write its master plan, Envision, which was approved last year.
“These new zoning standards are meant to encourage mixed use a little more throughout downtown,” said Lee Plemel, the city’s principal planner. “It’s a step.”
The area described as downtown in this zoning change proposal roughly extends north from 10th to John, and east from Nevada to Valley streets. Government buildings are excluded from the changes.
The idea is to improve the local economy by encouraging more activity downtown. More people able to use more businesses would bring in more tax dollars to fund city services, Plemel said.
A former downtown business owner said she hopes the zoning changes will make it simpler for businesses seeking to locate there.
“I heard this would make it easier for downtown business owners to deal with the city,” said Lydia Kubat, owner of Blondie’s. “If that’s what it’ll do, then I’m all for it.”
She said she had difficulty dealing with the city when she tried to locate a business downtown.
She and her husband, Viktor, who operate their main shop, Blondie’s, inside the Eagle Medical Center, shut down a second location downtown that served coffee, smoothies and pre-packaged snacks. The new Blondie’s began operating on Telegraph Street in May, but she found it took too long to get up and running.
With August traditionally being a slow business month, she decided to cut her losses and shut down the downtown shop. The couple is working seven days a week to make up for the financial loss of $35,000 by taking a beverage cart to weekend events, she said.
“I wanted a cute little Victorian shop,” she said. “I wanted to become a part of the community and give good service, but I didn’t want it to effect our other businesses.”
Kubat’s frustration wasn’t with how she was going to use her rented space – a small building that wouldn’t allow indoor seating or a public bathroom without costly improvements. She needed a sink installed so she could wash necessary appliances such as blenders and coffeemakers.
“It took almost five months,” she said. “And it was a sink just being connected to the pipe already here. Six feet!”
The entire process for changing the way city departments deal with developers and people set to make building improvements downtown will include other changes such as a review of building, engineering and other development-related codes and practices is beginning, but not part of the zoning changes on Thursday’s agenda.
Kubat would like to see these building requirements spelled out so she and other business owners know what’s required when they try to make additions or enhancements to downtown buildings.
The city is just beginning to look at ways to make these procedures easier for those located downtown, where the large number of older and historic buildings can make small changes in water or electrical systems difficult, expensive and not always feasible, said Larry Werner, the city’s head of development services.
Better communications among people using the spaces, building owners, city employees and contractors doing any improvements is crucial, Werner said.
“Making certain improvements in an older building that might trigger the need for other improvements,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not simple. Safety issues and ADA improvements can play a part.”
There is no timeline for these building and engineering changes to be implemented.
Progression of the Carson City Freeway and improvements to streets running north to south will lessen traffic on Carson Street would make downtown locations more accessible and attractive to residents – an optimal time to have new rules and policies in place, said Werner and Plemel.
The entire freeway may be complete by 2011 and tie into Highway 395 at the base of Spooner Summit.
Later changes will also focus on the downtown’s “streetscape,” the pedestrian view of the downtown area and the mix of buildings, sidewalks, signs and public amenities. This includes determining and establishing rules for such things as the distance for which buildings should be set back from the edge of curbs, Plemel said.
• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.