Buellton’s City Council gave final approval on a plan for its downtown last October, choosing art deco as the architectural style and a potential for up to 365 new residential units.
The style choice, number of potential residential units allowed, and what exactly the commercial component will be has some residents concerned that our rural character will be lost.
The council’s decision to keep the current roadway configuration for the Avenue of Flags — in opposition to community desires during the 2010 Community Visioning workshops — means problems that could have been resolved would not be. Lots will remain small, the avenue excessively wide, with no civic element to draw the community there.
Council chose to exclusively use form-based codes to create a comfortable pedestrian setting and business-friendly downtown. This meant building up to 50 feet tall to compensate for the highway-scaled roadway, giving space for residential units.
Art deco was ultimately chosen over craftsman style due to the new 50-feet height standards, and as a unifier of styles presently on the avenue.
Architectural examples shown during the Oct. 26 council meeting were a step in the right direction, for the most part. However, from some Chamber of Commerce comments, along with a few council members, trendy seemed to be their preference. This could prove disastrous.
Buellton’s economic development consultants, who created a developer opportunity reserve program that includes incentives for residential units with a series of tradeoffs, warned of the possibility that residential units could be built and commercial spaces could remain vacant.
Overall, Buellton’s economic plan is broad in scope. While it mainly supports a community-based policy, it does include tourism-based components. If the economic outreach leans too heavily toward the visitor sector, our city could easily turn into another Solvang, which our community does not support.
There is still opportunity for Buellton to design a downtown with small-town charm that is pedestrian-safe and inviting. But to achieve this, I believe the City Council needs to do several things — lower the number of potential residential units in our downtown; create policies that will prevent the building of residential units while leaving vacant commercial spaces; and develop architectural standards that create visual cohesiveness through classic and timeless design.
This is especially critical on corner lots, which will give spatial definition to our downtown Plaza. And lastly, it will require our currant and all future City Council members to make a commitment to the community’s vision.