WALNUT CREEK -- Mount Diablo Boulevard figures to get a bit narrower in the next few years, part of an adjustment to a plan designed to make downtown more of a regional destination.
The Locust Street/Mt. Diablo Boulevard Specific Plan focuses on 24 parcels on 5.4 acres of underdeveloped land on the north side of Mt. Diablo Boulevard between California Boulevard and Main Street, and along Locust Street. City leaders hope a hotel, new retail, office and residential space, approximately 555 new parking spaces (including a new public parking garage) and a network of new public pedestrian walking paths and courtyards are eventually part of the finished plan.
City planner Ethan Bindernagel recommended that the 100-foot-wide "future street line" -- the parameters for future narrowing or widening -- on a downtown portion of Mt. Diablo Boulevard between California Boulevard and Main Street be removed in order to allow for more pedestrian-friendly development there.
The zoning on both sides of Mount Diablo Boulevard is "pedestrian retail," Bindernagel said, where shoppers and others are encouraged to park once and walk.
That 100-foot width, in place since before the construction of Interstate 680 through Walnut Creek in the early 1960s, isn't conducive to pedestrians or encouraging people to walk, Bindernagel said. If that limitation was not removed, he said, the unintended consequences -- especially on the north side of Mt. Diablo Boulevard -- would be fewer buildable parcels there.
The council unanimously agreed to remove the 100-foot requirement, and discussed the possibility that restriction may also be removed on the portion of Mt. Diablo Boulevard west of California Boulevard. Any changes west of California Boulevard will be discussed under the West Downtown Specific Plan, which is still being developed.
Councilman Gary Skrel elicited some laughs when he joked about whether a graphic showing the Tiffany's jewelry store extending into the 100-foot "future street line" meant the city was entitled to a portion of that store's revenues.
For Skrel, it was his last chance to inject a little humor into the proceedings.
"This is my last meeting here in the council chambers," said Skrel. "So I want to thank all the residents, all the community organizations all the businesses, both past and current executive team and past and current council members for working with me and for putting up with me for the last 12 years. It's been a great ride with enough memories to last a lifetime.
"So, with that, this is Council member Skrel signing off from 1666 North Main."
The ice skating rink at Civic Park is a reminder of Skrel's time on the council -- he was a major advocate of its creation eight years ago. Skrel, who cast many votes against proposals he deemed funding would be an issue, served during a time of intense growth for the city amid a fiscal crisis.
"Your 12 years on the council was an intense period of time with a lot of significant issues," Mayor Bob Simmons told Skrel. "I particularly valued your leadership in the financial area as we struggled these last four years to deal with the impact of what is the worst financial crisis in our lifetimes."
Kish Rajan, another departing councilmember, said Skrel was a great example for newer council members such as himself. Rajan is leaving the Walnut Creek council after one term to become the director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.
Skrel and Rajan will be succeeded by Loella Haskew and Justin Wedel, who won election earlier this month to their first council terms. Their first meeting will be Dec. 4.