WALNUT CREEK -- The city's West Downtown Specific Plan, designed to develop commercial and residential opportunities for the area between California Boulevard and Interstate 680, is expanding southward.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently approved a $50,000 grant to study options for including a new area -- south from Mt. Diablo Boulevard to Olympic Boulevard. The Walnut Creek City Council approved the expanded plan boundaries Oct. 2.

The additional plan area will allow Walnut Creek to consider commercial, residential and transit development opportunities in a third major gateway to downtown, said Andrew Smith, Walnut Creek senior planner. Making the area as friendly as possible for its residents to walk to nearby businesses and to the Walnut Creek BART station is a key element of the plan, he said.

"To be able to better plan for that area is particularly helpful," said Smith, noting the new Mt. Diablo Boulevard/Olympic Boulevard segment of the West Downtown Specific Plan is more commercial in nature than most of the original area, which includes the Almond Shuey residential neighborhood. Many of the homes there date from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

Eileen Greene, who lives and works within the plan area, said the coming of the planned Walnut Creek BART Transit Village -- apartments near the station where 1,300 or more new area residents would live -- will likely mean big changes for the area.

"Generally, the more heads working on this sort of thing, the better," said Greene, whose Greene Property Management operates an apartment complex in the northern part of the plan area.

The addition of the new southerly area enhances the usefulness of the whole plan, said Matt Vander Sluis, a senior field representative for the land conservation and urban planning organization Greenbelt Alliance.

In his view, this plan will have wider impacts than simply on western Walnut Creek. Helping that city plan for a more commuter-friendly area will mean less pressure to develop areas outside of town and throughout Contra Costa for residential development.

"There are a lot of opportunities for creating new homes and improving this portion of town so that more residents can live on safe, walkable streets," said Vander Sluis, who is based in Walnut Creek. Such development, he said, could include residences above commercial shops.

In May, the city received a $450,000 MTC grant to create this plan and put up an additional $150,000 toward the process.

Approximately 110 people -- officials like Smith, members of interest groups like Greenbelt Alliance, and area residents -- attended an Aug. 30 workshop at St. Paul's Episcopal Church to talk about the plan. Another such meeting, with an eye to discussion of the new Olympic Boulevard addition, likely will take place in December, Smith said.

Change is inevitable, said Greene, who sees the West Downtown plan at this point as a mixed bag.

"This is a nice place as it is," she said. "But any ways to improve it are welcome."