DOWN ON MAIN STREET
After nearly a year and a half, a comprehensive plan to improve and revitalize Downtown Bishop is nearing the approval stage.
The Downtown Bishop Specific Plan and Mixed-Use Overlay is the result of extensive research, consistent community input, and stakeholder conversation, all aimed at bolstering the area.
Representatives from Alta Planning and Design held a community workshop to discuss the final draft of the plan on Thursday, December 9.
The plan is an “effort to identify strategies for increasing housing options and vitality in downtown Bishop,” said Tim Bevins, a planning associate with Alta, adding that the plan wasn’t intended to change Bishop into something completely different.
“Bishop is special and unique,” he said, “and we want to maintain that by bumping up a couple things around the margins so we can bring development to the city.”
The Specific Plan and Mixed-Use Overlay are two separate items: the Specific Plan covers the entirety of Downtown Bishop, stretching from the Bishop Paiute Reservation in the west to the city boundaries in all directions.
The Mixed-Use Overlay covers an area from Line Street up to Vons and includes some abutting blocks and is encompassed within the Specific Plan.
Anything that is directly addressed in the Mixed-Use Overlay supersedes direction in the Specific Plan.
The goal of the Overlay, Bevins said, is to “accommodate increased housing density and a mixture of [land] uses.”
“If and when the plan is adopted, it doesn’t transform the city overnight or even a year,” Bevins stressed, adding that the plan is concerned with “establishing parameters for continued growth and development.”
“Bishop is an eclectic, interesting town and that’s what people like about it,” Bevins said, “We want to keep what’s unique about Bishop the way that it is.”
Increased housing, he said, was a common desire among Bishop residents. Increased building heights within both the Specific Plan and the Mixed-Use Overlay aim to address that.
Under the Specific Plan, buildings would be capped at 36 feet tall; under the Mixed-Use Overlay, that would increase to 48 feet.
The hope, according to Bevins, is that “downtown becomes a little more of a place that you stay, not just a place you head for a minute to pick up one thing.”
Also on the list of resident desires was retaining the existing “eclectic” architectural feel of downtown.
Guidance in the new plan means that “Things can continue to be unique but in a little bit of a harmonious fashion,” Bevins said.
The Downtown Plan seeks to establish corridors for foot traffic by making use side streets or alleys adjacent to Main Street.
“The conditions are all there to make it easy for people to complete errands on foot, and have pleasant time hanging out downtown,” Bevins said of the area.
Elaine Kabala, a planner with the City of Bishop, stepped in to address one of the most common issues cited by residents: Main Street and 395.
“You’ll find in this plan that there’s not wide sweeping solutions for highway 395 and Main Street,” she said, “I can attest that having staffed the outreach meetings, I don’t think there was a single one person who did not bring up that that was a problem [with the road].
Caltrans maintains control of Main Street and as a result, planners didn’t have much to work with. Kabala said that the city has approached Caltrans about things like a truck bypass but those decisions are outside of the city’s control.
Bevins added that public input is a major driver for projects involving entities like Caltrans, and he encouraged citizens to continue making their voices heard on the matter.
Alta Senior Planner Sam Zneimer took over for a deep dive into the draft plan.
In terms of consistency in architecture, Zneimer said that the plan left business owners with a lot of choices, but still provided “a framework so that we don’t have weird random things that don’t match in quality, materials, luminosity.
“We don’t want to have a giant neon sign blasting out lumens beyond dark sky ordinances,” he said.
While Main Street may be relatively off limits (trucks, noise, exhaust), the plan allows for more outdoor dining, something Zneimer said was a common query from locals.
The plan would also allow for activation in areas off of Main Street (parking lots, alleys) as well as rooftop dining.
Zneimer said there was significant interest in more public art along the corridor. Included in the Downtown Plan is a 1% fee on any development that would be invested into a public art fund.
Wayfinding was also at the forefront of other discussions, including directing visitors to specific businesses or areas as well as parking.
Zneimer said that there about 1,800 existing parking spaces within the downtown area; the key is helping people find them.
Lunch aside: What are they offering? Eye examinations?
The planners proposed a parking fee in-lieu program that would allow for developers to pay into a fund instead of paying to create on-site parking. Money from that fund would pay for wayfinding projects to enhance access to public parking.
In her closing remarks, Kabala said that the Downtown Plan is meant to “set a vision” and “[serve] as a tool that sets strategic vision of city, a tool that the city will be able to use to guide development.”
A final decision on the plan hinges on California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approval for the requested zoning and height changes in the plan.
After a truncated presentation to Bishop City Council on Monday, December 13, City Administrative for Bishop Ron Phillips said that the CEQA process would hopefully be completed by April.City council members were in support of the plan as presented.