A major update of the City’s Zoning Ordinance and General Plan – called The Eastern Gateway Study – is underway and has the potential to greatly enhance the eastern entrance to Benicia along 5th and Military Streets.

Funded with a $160,000 grant from the California Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it proposes new mixed-use zoning to increase affordable housing and guides building design & development over the next five to twenty years.  As work progresses, it will improve the look, feel, and environment in east Benicia. (Note: We discussed this study in the May issue. To take a video walking tour, or view past presentations of the Planning Commission and City Council, visit https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/easterngateway. )

Six years ago, I purchased the trailer park at E 5th and N Street, planning to relocate Pedrotti’s Ace Hardware Hardware store. While plans to close the park are ongoing, this experience gave me some insight into the complexity and frustration with making design choices. Initially interviewing three architectural firms skilled in retail development, one critical question was repeatedly asked: “What should the building look like?”  Well, across California there are countless strip malls of tasteless design, so no thanks there. Besides, our store celebrates our Centennial next spring – 2022 – and I wanted a building that would carry my company beautifully into its next century. The design needed to stand out AND also stand in, that is, be part of the neighborhood. However, existing architecture in east Benicia varies greatly and it did not offer much to emulate. It would have helped tremendously to have a roadmap from which designers and architects could take their cue. Moving forward, this is where the Eastern Gateway Study can have a great influence.

What I would like to suggest is that the community consider a single design theme for the Eastern Gateway, one that is historically linked to the downtown and carries into East Benicia.  Pre-vetted and arrived at by mutual consent, it pre-selects architectural elements and options central to Benicia’s historical roots.

Think Solvang, for example. Located off the central coast in Santa Barbara County, it is known and admired for its Danish theme architecture. On a much grander scale, consider Santa Barbara; following the devastation wrought by the 1925 earthquake, the city center was rebuilt under a Spanish Colonial Revival style for which it is now famous. Or lastly, how about Old Sacramento? Its many blocks of brick-faced ornate buildings surrounded by wood planked sidewalks evocate the Gold Rush era. All of these communities are well known for the brands and identities that come from a shared theme of architecture. 

What could work in Benicia? Well, look no further than downtown Benicia!

Imagine taking its current historical architectural style and extending it to the Eastside, all the way to the 5th Street freeway entrance! Visitors entering the city via the 5th Street off ramp would immediately get a taste of Benicia’s past, a flavor that runs down 5th, through Military, and back to First Street!

Such a design focus presents a huge opportunity! It would tie the Eastside to the downtown, creating a central theme throughout East Benicia, and strengthening Benicia’s brand and image as a California Main Street community. Streamlining the design process would reduce cost and speed up execution; it’s important to ensure that Gateway develops at a steady pace. And unlike faux and fake commercial design, mentioned earlier, architecture based upon Benicia’s historical past would be seen as authentic, a huge advantage in marketing to the public and to tourists. Benicia could become a second cousin to Old Sac!

To better understand and imagine how the downtown architecture would look if extended eastward, take a look at Benicia’s Downtown Historic Conservation Plan at https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/historicpreservation.

The Eastern Gateway Study is a big undertaking.

Two June planning commission meetings will consider standards such as height, parking, potential setbacks, landscaping, open space, etc. In July, City Council will continue its discussion as well. Agenda links will be posted on the web page above. Your input and feedback is not only vital, it is sincerely welcomed by City officials. 

Your thoughts?  Write us at: general@beniciamagazine.com