By Katherine Minkiewicz
Rohnert Park held its final open studio session for their public charrette meeting series Thursday morning. Many RP locals gathered to submit their final input on what they believe the future of RP’s downtown should look like, with pedestrian and biker friendly amenities a large part of a collective vision.
Around 100 or so people attended the four-day long series of meetings, where RP residents and designers and architects from Opticos Design Inc. (an architectural design company based in Berkeley) came together over cups of hot-coffee to harness ideas and input into a large 3D model of what people want to see most in a downtown.
The large-scale model served as a message board and a visual representation for attendees to view the town and place hand written suggestions of what they wanted to see in a downtown area and where they wanted to see those ideas take shape.
Having the open studio meeting is important in the downtown design and planning stage because it gives the community a chance to engage with designers and give feedback on what they would like to see, according to Mitali Ganguly, a designer with Opticos Design Inc.
“For the open studio I am drawing plans for downtown and working on designs… and new sections and structures for the 3D model,” she said of her role in helping ideas come to life. “(With the open studio) the community can engage and we can get feedback on the designs.”
Most of the notes and design ideas were stuck to residential and retail areas near the SMART train station on Rohnert Park Expressway, the City Center near the regional library and near the Padre Town Center. Ideas ranged from creating a communal town garden or a “restaurant row” near the train station, to installing a “meditative, garden-style labyrinth,” one attendee wrote.
However, the biggest concept that many agreed the city should take on in their downtown plan, was to make the city more biker and walker friendly, with an emphasis on downtown amenities that foster more sociable and green living conditions.
“It would be nice to have the necessities of life in walking distance… and to have pedestrian friendly pathways and more of a thoughtful use of land,” said Anne Trujillo, an 11-year RP resident.
In addition to having a downtown with better walkability — RP has a walker friendly score of only 18 according to apartmentfinder.com statistics, Trujillo is one of the attendees who believes that any vision of a downtown area for RP should be an environmentally friendly one.
“One thing we kept talking about (the first Monday night charrette workshop) was global warming and since we have a warmer, dryer climate we should have drought tolerant trees and shade structures that aren’t trees and explore the use of empty space,” Trujillo said.
Lilliana House, who has made RP her home for the last 26 years, says she wants the look of a future downtown to not only encourage green living, but to also encourage more social and culturally diverse activities and living — such as having an indie book store, movie theatre or a communal dog park.
“I would like to have bike and walk ways to get to small bookstores and theatres for more of a social downtown. I want to be able to walk to dinner and the movie theatre instead of having to go to downtown Santa Rosa or Petaluma. Rohnert Park should be the hub for (Sonoma County) and Wine Country,” House said of her ideas for a downtown.
In addition to community member input posted on the scale model, meeting coordinators posted photographs of other Bay Area cities such as San Francisco, Petaluma and Windsor and their downtown areas,
‘Charrette’ see page 13
asking feedback for what building facade styles locals would like to see. One favorite was an outdoor courtyard style mixed use building complete with park benches, water fountains and quaint vine covered brick buildings and structures with a place for people to gather for events, such as a plaza.
Next steps for implementing the ideas and tips from charrette participants includes a written report of the meeting discussions, which was presented at this week’s city council meeting and given feedback by city council members, according to Director of Developmental Services Mary Grace Pawson.
After that, “The next task for the consultants is actually turn the ideas together with the council direction, into language and pictures that will go into our zoning code and form based code. So, there will actually be an illustration of block layout, building types and some of the other features that came up through the charrette process and that will ultimately go to the council for review,” Pawson said. And while the majority of property that is in or near the desired downtown area is private ownership, “the code will guide the development of that property at the time.”
With around 100 participants who attended the meetings over the span of four days, Pawson said this process will prove to be to very helpful for developmental services in terms of creating a guide for the city and developers for how the downtown should look.
“There was not a particularly strong regulatory scheme for the downtown but there were some design guidelines that were adopted with the priority development area but those were advisory. A form based code (which will comprise of the idea and guidelines for creating a downtown) is regulatory and… that is helpful to both city and property owners. The charrette is especially helpful because we got clear input from not just the community, but each of the property owners in the downtown amenity zone,” Pawson said.
The current “downtown amenity zone” surrounds the retail areas of the Padre Town Center and the City Center, where many community events such as farmers markets and national night outs are held, however, the charrette focused on discussing a downtown area that would back up to Hinebaugh Creek and span over the areas of Enterprise Drive bounded by the SMART train station and Commerce Boulevard, according to Pawson.
Charrette meetings kicked off earlier last week with an opening presentation Monday evening, break-off workshops and discussions amongst attendees over a brown bag lunch and was concluded with last Thursday’s open studio.
One attendee Barry Bussewitz said of the importance of the charrette and why he attended Thursday’s event, “Design is important… and for people to become proficient on design so they can have a voice (on what the future of RP could look like).”