Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Felton Turns Out To Plot the Future

Note: Felton mom, Joni Martin, took copious notes at Tuesday nights public meeting on the Felton Town Plan and was kind enough to share them with SLVNews.  The meeting was one of three scheduled by our new Supervisor Bruce McPherson for the purpose of dusting off the old (but the most recent) town plans to see what consensus was reached in each community, what's been accomplished, what wasn't and what might be done today in terms of improvements.

I've done only very minor editing.  (Thanks Joni, for this community service.)


Every seat was taken, and people were packed, standing, in the back of the room. Supervisor Bruce McPherson welcomed everyone spoke briefly and introduced Renee Shepherd as his appointed Planning Commissioner, and had her describe helping draft the 1987 town plan.


Amanda from the County Planning Department discussed which items from the plan have been accomplished.

Items accomplished: Covered Bridge designated national historic site Covered Bridge Park built; Felton Hall built; utilities placed underground in a section of downtown; identifying and protecting view corridors; installing certain traffic signals; including the Covered Bridge horse stables a permanent part of the community; designating certain properties as historically significant; getting the “uphill” side of Gushee street designated residential rather than commercial (except post office and library, and, according to John
bed-and-breakfasts are allowed).

Items not yet accomplished: Pedestrian-friendly improvements and diagonal parking downtown; equestrian trails; moving the library to a larger facility; safe bike trail connecting Felton to Santa Cruz; left turn lane in the center of Highway 9 (separate from the intersection).

Pending issues related to town planning: Safe pedestrian/bike route from downtown Felton to SLV High School spearheaded by community member Bryan Largay.  Two new businesses have expresse interest in operating at the old Cremer Hotel: a restaurant in front and a commercial kitchen in the back (probably for New Leaf’s deli). This is the former site of Empire Grill by New Leaf.  Mt. Hermon’s proposed outdoor
adventure park next to Felton Faire. As she reviewed a picture of what it might look like, McPherson’s representative said some proposed structures might violate the town plan’s stance on scenic view. John Schumacher pointed out it was less of a view issue than the prior development the County considered. I
thought it looked like it would blend in well.


McPherson introduced the County’s new Economic Development Coordinator, Barbara Mason, who discussed her plans to support Valley businesses so more people who live here can work here. Most of our businesses fall within five clusters: Tech/Innovation, Tourism, Lifestyle, Environmental Technology, and Agriculture. She also touched on cottage food/other home based businesses and the new laws around those enterprises. She’s helped some businesses who were bogged down in permit processes.

Planning Director, Kathy Previsich, discussed changes in her department: streamlining the permit process to save time (despite large staff reductions) and lowering permit fees to the extent possible. Because of past frustration by community members with the amount of unpermitted building in the Valley, her staff now issues stop work notices and double fees if they see unpermitted work, but they’re considering a possible amnesty at some point to encourage people to get permits for work already done. McPherson urged us to trust the permit process again and apply for permits for construction work.

At the end, the community was invited to ask questions. Here are the issues I remember:

Lack of comfort/safety for residents and visitors in downtown Felton. Many people mentioned this. Complaints included vagrants aggressively pandhandling, public drug and alcohol use, unsafe/unhygienic waste from homeless encampments under bridges and near rivers and park. Some people don’t feel comfortable at the park and don’t take children there; one speaker no longer shops in Felton. (Our Community Policing officer from the sheriff’s department said in a previous neighborhood meeting that if we created a community crime tip forum online, it would help him help us.)

South Felton concerns – The owner of Oak Tree Ristorante said South Felton needs safe pedestrian and bike routes connecting them to downtown because so many children and others walk or bike along there. He also mentioned the number of large trucks coming to and from the quarry (he’d counted 25 that morning) and said he believes they are violating mining rules about water use, resulting in polluted runoff. He also said the principal of the local school said parking is the school’s biggest problem. I think that point was in support of improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, but I’m not sure.

Pedestrian/bike improvements – Several people said pedestrian-friendly sidewalks would make walking downtown safer and more appealing, which would benefit local business, environment/traffic, and community connection. Points made: In a study of the best towns to live in, sidewalk width is a factor. In parts of Felton, parents with children have to squeeze past people loitering on one side of the sidewalk while avoiding getting
too close to traffic on the other side. In large sections downtown there are no sidewalks. Some sidewalks are oddly planned: a couple blocks near the post office would be good for walking, except for poison oak along the side, but the sidewalk ends just before the library, where parked cars butt up against trash cans left on the street, so pedestrians/kids on bikes have to walk/ride into Gushee Street as they approach the library. Library bike parking is uphill from the library and has to be approached from the road. The owner of
Felton Feed noted that with traffic increasing, it’s increasingly important to make sure crosswalks are safe. He said the ones on Hwy 9 at New Leaf and the town hall need lights at night; he’s seen many near accidents as pedestrians enter the crosswalk.

Bike path – Bryan Largay discussed his work with others in the community to try to get a safe bike/pedestrian route between Felton and the schools. Ideally it would extend to Ben Lomond from the schools as well. He described part of the route it would take and noted that the main obstacle is getting CalTrans to respond and take action. He suggested that it might help to get responsibility for Highway 9 transferred from the state to the County so we could remove Cal Trans as a roadblock to the process, but McPherson said that wouldn’t be a good option because of maintenance costs and liability. Many
audience members had come to support the bike path. People can join their listserv to help out or stay informed.

Contact info: The listserv is: 

LibraryGeorge Wylie asked when we’ll get traction to move the library into a large facility on donated land next to the post office. McPherson has joined the County Library Joint Powers Board. He and Nancy Gerdt, a Library Board member from Felton, place a high priority on getting a new Felton branch built. We’ll need a County bond for construction funds, which he hopes to get on the ballot by November 2014. Audience members said they thought the sales tax increase we voted for several years back was supposed to meet all our libraries’ needs. Library Director, Teresa Landers, explained that the tax increase was to pay for day-to-day operating expenses for the libraries but didn’t include money for new buildings. The new Scotts Valley Library, for example, was funded with City money from their Redevelopment District.

Economic data adequate? Local business owner Doug Conrad questioned the Economic Development Coordinator about the validity of the data she had ordered from a State office because he said that State office doesn’t ask him details like how many employees he has. She said she can get that information; they agreed to continue the conversation outside the meeting.

Zayante Road safety - A W. Zayante Rd. resident mentioned frequent danger to pedestrians, especially those who wear dark clothing at night and walk along Zayante Road where there are no safe paths. He also mentioned that drivers use West Zayante as a shortcut to Graham Hill Road and speed along West Zayante. He suggested exploring a solution to that.

Permeable vs. impermeable pavementNina Moore said a Google Maps aerial view of Felton shows we have a lot of pavement and that we need to encourage more use of permeable surfaces as alternatives to pavement because pavement prevents rainwater from replenishing our local groundwater and creates stormwater management issues.

Need for public bathrooms – There are no public toilets in downtown Felton, and businesses as well as visitors are impacted by this. The high water table (or flood plain?) at the park means we can only have outhouses there, but they fill so quickly that people won’t or can’t use them. Felton Faire invested in a small sewage system for their businesses. As a way of giving back to the community, couldn’t they allow us to install nice public bathrooms at the park and pump the waste underground across the street to be included with the wastewater from Felton Faire?

Covered Bridge maintenance – The Covered Bridge is a nationally recognized, historically significant gem, but it is falling into disrepair. I missed part of the comments rallying community members to preserve the Bridge better.  (Ed note:  $200,000 in Federal funds championed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has been designated for a new roof which requires old growth hand split shingles.  Apparently that takes some time.)

Clearing brush and trimming trees along river - We have wonderful scenic resources in our bridge and our river, but the overgrowth of trees and other plants decrease the opportunity to enjoy the sight of the river while increasing the cover for homeless encampments or people who are using drugs and alcohol there.


Corinna said...

Very good information. Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope they are able to do something to make the park safer. I lived here when the park was built and took my children there many times from the begining. It is very sad to what is happening there. I also like the idea of the public bathroom idea and being linked to Felton Faire.

Stephan White said...

this is a nice post, thanks for information.

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