Benicia’s contribution to the Gold Rush is held by the tale of a customer who, while shopping at Von Pfister’s waterfront store, slipped up and shared the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill (1848). This resulted in a stampede to California, thereby changing the face of the state.
Well, there’s an exciting proposal floating around involving Eastern Benicia. Called the Eastern Gateway Study, it could dramatically change the look and feel of Eastern Benicia, making a lasting impression on the City’s landscape.
Funded by a $160,000 grant from the State of California to promote the production of housing, the Eastern Gateway Study was ordered by the City Council in February 2020. Centered on Military East and East Fifth, it proposes new mixed-use zoning for multifamily development and will require that both the Benicia Zoning Ordinance and Benicia General Plan be updated and amended.
Work completed on the project thus far includes research and documentation of existing conditions, formation of a Stakeholder group, and outreach to the community via a workshop and walking tour. Study Sessions were held with the Benicia Planning Commission in February 2021 and the City Council in March 2021.
To better understand the proposal, visit the City’s website where you can read all about the project, take a video walking tour, and view the presentations. See https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/easterngateway
One document, the Draft Preliminary Issues List, identifies key decisions about land use, parking, and design that must be made in the development of the new mixed-use zoning regulations. The more expansive Vision and Zoning District Approach helps us imagine what the neighborhood would look like if new multi-story buildings are constructed along Military and Fifth. These structures would provide housing units for workers and seniors as well as a mix of renter-and owner-occupied units. Ground floors would be reserved for commercial uses in key places. Using a variety of building heights, building sizes and architectural styles, new developments would incorporate landscaping, courtyards, and outdoor seating, while street improvements would accommodate all modes of travel – cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians. Taken together, the new buildings and streetscapes are intended to create a neighborhood that is not only consistent with Benicia’s historic past but enhances livability for residents, ultimately encouraging community building, walkability and a strong sense of civic pride.
Recent dialogue has revealed conflicting opinions. How tall should new buildings be? Parking is a concern for everyone. Would developers be allowed to bypass Historic Preservation Review Commission and Planning Commission review if they adhere to specific design requirements and agree to adding more affordable housing units? This streamlined approval process is known as “By-Right” development.
Having purchased the trailer park at 5th and I-780 some years ago as a future site for my hardware store, I was invited to participate as a Stakeholder and have attended all meetings. What I observed is not only a growing awareness and energy from participants, but a shared excitement for the opportunities and possibilities that proper development can bring.
Benicians will have the opportunity to weigh in on drafted zoning regulations for the Eastern Gateway Study Area this summer! Now is a great time to learn about the project by visiting the website, talking to the City, and signing up for email notifications so that you can stay on top of the issues. Please weigh in, community input is critical!
Development of the Eastern Gateway affects all of Benicia as all of us – residents, visitors, workers – regularly travel up and down 5th and Military. How the Eastside appears and appeals, how it serves and satisfies, how it draws and delights, will all be decided in the Eastern Gateway Study. Please join and participate in this worthwhile project.
Next month – What I propose for the Eastside!