“Main Street has blight … Kentucky Fried Blight.”
The quip by Paul Rudder during public comment at the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission’s Wednesday meeting was a reference to the unoccupied fast-food building near the corner of Laurel Mountain Road, but was used to punctuate his basic support for the Draft Downtown Neighborhood District Plan (aka “concept”), which Commission reviewed this week.
Called by Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw in the staff report “a bold, long-term vision,” the Downtown concept is a more refined extension of the original sketch or idea imagined by land planning firm Hart Howerton at the behest of Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory and Chadmar developer Chuck Lande. At 210 acres, it’s as much as five times bigger than most previous NDPs.
“Downtown and Main Street has long been an issue,” Wardlaw said. “The community has recognized the need for a change.” The street, he observed, is “reasonably good” in summer, but suffers from snow piling during the winter that blocks both views, as well as access to storefronts.
Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney opined the plan is bigger and more important than even the Village, but its also arguable that the scope could make it the biggest thing to impact the Town since its incorporation in the 1980s.
It’s also complex, affecting numerous local businesses and other neighborhoods (the neighboring Sierra Valley Sites, for instance), not to mention involving how to acquire rights to the Caltrans-controlled Hwy 203 (or Main Street in town) and whether or when to build its centerpiece: a gondola. The gondola has been very controversial, drawing both positive and negative reaction, though Wardlaw reported staff’s take that there’s “not enough information to accept or disregard” it at this point.
A 15-person focus group met at least five times to provide input and guidance on the concept, which Wardlaw said makes it far more a “community” vision, and “not a staff-driven plan.” Wardlaw pointed out from the outset that the plan, if approved, has a tremendous amount of work ahead of it, including traffic and cost studies, Persons At One Time analyses, impact criteria development and collecting public and leadership input at various milestones along the way, and finding the best amalgam of private business and public services.
That the Town’s acquisition of Main Street should be the first priority isn’t in dispute. As the Commission and public input has generally concluded, nothing is going to happen without it. And that seems to dovetail with one of the concept’s stated goals, which is “connect with businesses and property owners” and “build momentum through small businesses.” Part of that involves not only Main Street, but the frontage roads that run along it on either side.
“We can get there, if we maintain  as a four-lane road,” Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis told the Commission. “Caltrans is at the table.” Jarvis said the frontage roads, which fall under the Town’s jurisdiction, could be modified to a certain extent, involving Caltrans mainly as concerns the transition points on and off 203. He also agreed with the commission that the frontage roads could be used as a business incentive, which Tenney said is a “catalyst that’s often overlooked.”
Snow management is a big part of the equation, the cost of which hasn’t been fully analyzed yet, but could, as one idea, be included to some degree as part of a possible Business/Benefit Assessment District, which Barrett quipped would make Rudder, the District’s largest property owner, “the Intrawest of Main Street.”
Rudder went on to praise the “good piece of work by staff on the concept as a point of origin.” He added his advice not to discount the potential of leaving more walk space as part of the new frontage design, saying that a lot can be gained very cost-effectively without making huge changes to 203.
He also advocated “evolutionary,” more incremental change, as opposed to more broadstroke, sweeping “revolutionary change.” John Vereuck said build the 203 first, agreeing with others that the plan has to start there, but opined that perhaps some parts of the plan should be more “revolutionary” in their execution.
Tenney also voiced the importance of incentives to redevelop businesses and move them closer (metaphorically, not necessarily literally) to the Main Street vision.
“Concepts become concrete,” posited Commissioner Sharon Clark, referring to her thought that public hearing to get additional public input (over and above the workshops already held). The concept may not become “concrete” in the fall down and skin your knee sense anytime soon. But it may take a step closer to becoming more concrete in the metaphoric sense when it’s reviewed once more at the Commission’s July 28 meeting.
At that time, it’s expected to include an added Executive Summary and a “Power Punch” document emphasizing the importance of the plan and its key points. Also to be added: the Planners’ take on phasing, as well as comments from other commissions. If Planners approve of the changes, it will likely be recommended to Council.