Neighbors say no new houses on game board
Mammoth Lakes Planning Commissioners and Town staff conducted a rare, though pretty well-attended open forum on the afternoon of Feb. 23 to hear residents’ input on the upcoming Sierra Valley Sites (SVS) Neighborhood District Plan project. The Sites encompass properties along Manzanita Road, Mono and Lupin streets, Joaquin Road and Dorrance Drive, bordered by Main Street to the north and Meridian Boulevard to the south.
Those commenting were free to lob in any wishes, concerns or likes/dislikes that will be rolled into a “scope of work” document, which will be used by the Town and its lawmakers and divisions for future meetings and workshops. All topics from land use to storm water management were on the table.
SVS is one of the two remaining districts the NDP process has yet to address. One of the oldest neighborhoods in Mammoth, the community is also unique to the NDP process in that it’s not tied to a major development project. The North Village NDP, for example, was triggered by the proposed Mammoth Crossing project.
NDPs are discreet improvement, regulation and investment plans, using significant community input, but this one could end up being a little more resident-specific. Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw pointed out that SVS has no business or industrial component, and for the first time since its inception, the NDP will be about a “true neighborhood.”
Made up largely of working-class families and year-round residents, the property where SVS currently sits can trace its roots back to at least 1948, when the Lutz family owned the property, according to SVS resident Leigh Gaasch, who tracked down a copy of the original title deed. Gaasch told the Commission that, according to her research, SVS was developed allowing just one home per lot. The community, she and others say, has been allowed to far exceed that density. Numerous homes are today wedged in alongside condos and apartment buildings that Gaasch said were never intended to be part of the development. Gaash added she’s still researching the SVS history.
“When did it change from one house per lot to the over-dense, complex area we have now?,” she asked.
She and other residents, however, stayed focused on how to improve SVS, given the present state of the neighborhood. Affordable housing, outdated or badly maintained storm drainage, pedestrian mobility and safety, and street lighting were among the issues brought up by residents.
Traffic flow is at least near, if not at the top of the list of concerns. Manazanita in particular has become a major cut-through artery from Main St. to Meridian Blvd., and led to what Gary Smalls called “dangerous” conditions. “I can’t believe no one’s been killed,” he told the Commission.
What to do about that traffic is a conundrum with no clear answer yet. Various solutions, be they one-way routing, one-way in/out street access, multiple-use paths and various traffic calming measures, are all part of the mix.
Some residents, such as Smalls, think a one-way traffic flow could work. Others, such as Bill Sauser, think that approach will simply double traffic on other streets, and make it more cumbersome for various residents to go to or from their homes.
Lowering the speed limit from 25 mph to 15 mph is an idea several residents supported, but that change may not be easy. Mammoth Police Chief Dan Watson said that first off state law sets the limits at 25 mph in residential areas, and radar enforcement of a 15 mph zone there would mean speed studies would have to support lowering the speed limit. The Town’s Peter Bernasconi pointed out that such a speed survey was done about two years ago on both ends of Manazanita, and established precedent for a 25 mph zone.
Whatever that solution nearby businesses, such as John’s Pizza Works and A-Frame Liquor, will be looking for a solution that doesn’t have any significant impact on foot and vehicle access to their businesses, even though they’re not part of the NDP.
In addition to other localized storm drainage items, Gaasch also suggested the Town take a look at impacts from nearby areas on SVS. “Every development about us will affect drainage,” Gaasch opined. “The more roofs and blacktop you have, the more runoff you have.”
And, while SVS doesn’t contain any premium properities the likes of Park Place or Boardwalk, Lupin Street resident Amy Cutter pointed out that the area, which she said is hardly a “tract” neighborhood, has enough single-family, duplex and affordable housing already on it, and doesn’t need any more.
“I’d like the document to include no dumping of affordable housing mitigation, or use of in-lieu fees to develop any more affordable housing into SVS,” she requested. Cutter and Sauser suggested SVS could have more employee housing than any other Mammoth neighborhood.
Mammoth Lakes Housing Director Pam Hennarty responded to Cutter’s points, saying MLH has no plans for any “new development” at this point. Hennarty added that all 78 of its rental units are rented, but the waiting list for properties has 80 families on it. MLH, she said, is working on rehabilitating several existing properties, since more state dollars are available for those, but so far none of the rehab units are in SVS.
Look for more public meetings to come sooner rather than later, according to Wardlaw, who said CDD plans to make sure the process doesn’t drag on and to finish its work on the document in June of this year.