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Old Plan Gets Fresh Look

news2Boulder Creek meets to discuss Town Plan and improvements still to be made

The main drag in Boulder Creek is dotted with historical architecture, quaint awnings and signage reminiscent of the western frontier village the small Santa Cruz Mountain town was during the end of the 19th century. Just past the diminutive downtown, tree-studded hills make Boulder Creek what Nancy Owens calls “the gateway to the redwood forest.”

This isn’t how Boulder Creek always looked, says Owens, who owns a cabin in the area. Twenty years ago, she says the center of town was made up of “decrepit-looking buildings” and a plethora of empty business spaces.

That began to change when, in May 1992, Boulder Creek’s Town Plan was codified with hopes of improving the town by developing land-use policies, public improvements, development standards and design guidelines.

Some aspects of the plan—like maintaining historic aspects of renovated buildings, installing some “acorn” streetlights and western false-front parapets—were implemented in the years that followed, but many others fell by the wayside due to a lack of momentum, says Fifth District County Supervisor Bruce McPherson. These include some intersection improvements, village entry markers and bridge improvements.

Recently settled into his seat on the Board, McPherson is giving the 1992 Town Plan a second chance in the spotlight. He presented the Town Plan for Boulder Creek, which is subject to the San Lorenzo Valley General Plan, to an audience of nearly 100 at a Feb. 26 meeting at Boulder Creek Elementary School. With the results of this meeting and others in Felton and Ben Lomond over the next couple months, he hopes to understand what projects residents are most interested in expediting from their respective Town Plans.

“Walking precincts last year and then talking to people since being elected, I've found that people were very interested in taking a new look at the town plans,” McPherson says. “Boulder Creek has a tremendous personality in the town and I think people want to emphasize that western town look.” 

Improvements recommended in the Town Plan include installing “public improvements to create a pedestrian-oriented environment” and preserving “the scale and character of the South Village’s residential areas.” The Town Plan also focuses a great deal on implementation of streetlights along dark stretches of street surrounding the main area. Many of the objectives in the plan focus most specifically on the Village Core and South Village.

Public opinion at the meeting generally supported these projects, but many attendees also spoke out about the fact that some of the improvements the town wished to make 20 years ago were stalled indefinitely because the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), the state agency that owns the highway, was slow to approve requests.

“Businesses’ front doors are on the state highway,” McPherson says. “That's going to be a critical factor in how we communicate and how we make requests [of CalTrans]. I just want to make sure we affirm support for those types of ideas before we really get serious about talking to CalTrans about it.”

The financing options for proposed projects laid out in the implementation section of the Boulder Creek Town Plan include Community Development Block Grants, establishment of a redevelopment area—the public was not keen on this when redevelopment funding was available—federal and state grants, as well as CalTrans Highway Improvement Funds. The public still expresses doubts today about the economic viability of the plan.

“In a time when a lot of people are hard on money, I don't think a lot of improvements are necessary,” says Boulder Creek resident and meeting attendee Danny Bytheway. “If the town was really prospering and we had a bunch of people who were willing to even donate to a cause, [these plans] would be worthwhile.”

However, Owens, who was involved in original negotiations 20 years ago, says the “leave my town the way it is” attitude was very pervasive then, but has somewhat petered out over the years.

“There are still some of the same people expressing the same opinions as way back when,” Owens says. “[But] there are also a lot more people who understand that the community won't remain viable if we don't start making improvements and bringing people in and capturing our own residents to use the town and [capturing] tourism. We will never turn into a Los Gatos or Saratoga because that's not our flavor.”

McPherson expects it will take more than one meeting to fully understand the trends in what Boulder Creek residents want for their area, and that this will be a very long and ongoing effort. As for an end date for projects to be completed, he can’t say.

“It depends a lot on the enthusiasm of the people,” McPherson says. “If we see that there is a project that people want addressed that we can address … when you put a price tag on it, you see how enthusiastic people are about it. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on it at the outset.”

However, streetlight implementation in dark streets, one of the less contentious parts of the plan and a “quick-win,” McPherson says, are already in the process of being implemented in Boulder Creek. He says this project will probably be completed by summer or fall.

“This has been such a sleeping giant in the past and I got real frustrated in the past when I got involved because there didn't seem to be any momentum or ability to push forward,” Owens says. “Maybe there will be now.” 

Future meeting dates: Felton Town Plan Meeting: 7–9 p.m. on March 19; Ben Lomond Town Plan Meeting: 7–9 p.m. on April 18.

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