Press Releases were issued daily during the on-site charrette week in June 2000.
Planning Central Hercules—with Citizens’ Help
HERCULES, CA, June 21— This week and next, the City of Hercules is inviting residents and property owners to collaborate with nationally recognized town planners on the new District Plan Initiative. The purpose of this project is to create a design-oriented master plan that ties together the disjointed set of parcels and projects that will eventually comprise the heart of the city— 426 acres in all.
The firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners was chosen earlier this year to lead the District Plan effort on behalf of the City Council and Planning Commission. Members of the Dover Kohl team began arriving early this week. The team includes urban designers, planners, illustrators, code-writers, engineers, transportation experts, retail specialists, and authorities on housing, marketing and architecture. More information about Dover, Kohl & Partners and their other projects around the US can be found at www.doverkohl.com.
All week the team is conducting in-depth interviews with local officials, property owners, developers, environmentalists and neighbors. They are also touring other Bay Area towns that have similar conditions, analyzing comparable real estate examples, and then studying the Central Hercules site in detail.
Next the team will gear up for special public meetings, including a technical briefing for the citizen-planners on Friday night and a “hands-on planning session” all day Saturday.
Hercules’ Development Prospects Examined at Briefing
HERCULES, CA, June 23— About one hundred thirty citizens of Hercules gathered at the Swim Center Friday night for a technical briefing on the many projects developers are contemplating in the center of town. It was all part of getting ready for a hands-on planning session scheduled for Saturday.
Planning Commissioner Steve Lawton, who explained the typical public/private process of land development in Hercules, began the briefing. Lawton compared the site plan approval process to a “pipeline”—some projects are in the earliest stages, just beginning to enter the pipeline, and others are midway in the public review process, while still others are “out of the pipe,” already approved with construction set to begin. He used maps and lists to review more than two dozen proposed development projects one by one, identifying which ones were in the early, midway or finished stages. “The bottom line is that many key projects and parcels of land are in that beginning segment of the pipe, and as citizens we still have time to improve the outcomes, if we work together to explain to developers and our leaders what we want,” said Lawton, whose volunteer term as a planning commissioner began in 1997.
Next, town planner Victor Dover explained the “designing in public” process that citizen-planners will use Saturday in the hands-on planning session, and called upon the people of Hercules to see this as a historic event in the life of their community.
Housing market analyst Laurie Volk of Zimmerman Volk Associates provided a background report on the potential for residential uses of varying kinds in the town center. Volk said there is significant market demand for urbane, in-town residences to complement the commercial and civic components of the town center. “There is an opportunity here to offer the very best, in every category of housing,” said Volk, “But only if it’s done well. The aggregate effect of the many projects could transform the city for the better.”
Retail planner Jim Eppink of Gibbs Planning Group and transportation planner Jim Daisa then presented highlights of their background analyses for the District Plan Initiative. Eppink assessed the amount and kind of retail businesses the local trade area can support, and described the dramatic revival of “Main Street” retailing nationwide during the last twenty years. Daisa explained ways that, with proper engineering, streets can balance the needs of motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and businesses.
In an “open microphone” session that followed, citizens asked questions about the status of various projects and expressed some of their priorities for central Hercules, including tree-lined streets for walking and biking, more places to shop and eat, safe places for kids, and a diversity of housing choices.
Hercules resident Brenda Smith Johnson urged the group to think long term, saying “We’ve got to have a vision for this part of Hercules.” ‘Citizen Planners’ Envision the Hercules of Tomorrow
HERCULES, CA, June 24—Public participation in the urban planning of Hercules kicked into high gear Saturday, as ten teams of “citizen planners” worked over maps and described their visions for the city’s central neighborhoods.
About one hundred residents, property owners, and business owners joined the City staff and technical consultants in a “hands-on planning session” as part of Hercules’ District Plan Initiative. Over the course of five hours, the participants divided into small groups and prepared sketches, maps and lists of their priorities for the development of more than two dozen parcels of land in the center of town. The event was held in the Swim Center gymnasium.
Lead planner Victor Dover held a drawing pen over his head, saying, “This is the most powerful tool in the planning universe. Your City Council and Planning Commission have said, ‘Put these tools in the hands of our citizens. Let them show us what they want. Listen to them.’ This is a historic opportunity to make your community better.” Dover is part of the interdisciplinary team of consultants from Dover, Kohl & Partners, Gibbs Planning Group, Zimmerman Volk Associates, and Fehr & Peers, all hired by the City of Hercules to carry out the District Plan Initiative.
The citizens accepted the challenge. After the planners reviewed some basic ground rules, the groups began brainstorming, thinking through the thorny issues of street layouts, parks, the scale and character of commercial development, and strategic redevelopment of land at the heart of the city. Though sometimes noisy, the session was marked by teamwork. “Everybody leaves with something they want, but nobody gets everything they want,” said Dover.
Each of the ten groups made a presentation at the end of the day, and some striking areas of consensus emerged. Recurring themes included: creating well-connected neighborhoods; growing a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use core along Sycamore Avenue; establishing a waterfront area with restaurants and public spaces; and infill development on the land presently occupied by the BART parking lot.
Despite the hard work, the planning session was fun, too. Vice Mayor Terry Segerberg congratulated the participants at the end of the session, saying, “There was a delightful spirit of cooperation in this room today, and the citizens of Hercules should be proud.”
Planners Scrutinize Citizens’ Ideas
HERCULES, CA, June 25—Following a “hands-on planning session” held Saturday with citizens of Hercules, the City’s planning team has begun reconciling the citizens’ ideas with the realities of property size, traffic engineering, and real estate. An around-the-clock process of creating one plan from the many sketches generated in Saturday’s session is now underway in the old Wells Fargo Bank building, located in the Creekside shopping center parking lot.
The idea is to create a unified plan for the many projects and parcels slated for development in the central core of the City. During this week, Hercules citizens and property owners are invited to drop in at the Wells Fargo “studio” to look over the work in progress and provide additional input to the planners.
Two groups of urban designers have been formed, all working in a big room now filled with maps, photos, computers, and sketches. One group is refining the master plan layout, while the second group is creating a skeletal draft of a new land development ordinance.
A series of specific meetings has been arranged over the next several days to examine particular parts of the plan with affected individuals, “but the emphasis right now is on the big picture,” said Joseph Kohl of Dover, Kohl & Partners, town planners. Kohl is leading the code-writing group. His goal is to convert the urban design ideas that form the fundamental framework of the plan into a simple, illustrated Code that will be used by future developers, architects, and engineers as they build central Hercules.
There will be a presentation of the work in progress Thursday, June 29th at 7:30pm in the Hercules Swim Center. Neighbors are urged to attend this important meeting.
“Intelligent Communities” Expert Meets with Hercules Business Leaders
HERCULES, CA, June 26— Author and real estate marketing authority Peter Katz, whose 1994 book The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community is now in its seventh printing, addressed a unique gathering of developers, property owners, consultants and city planners in Hercules on Monday afternoon. His message: If properly executed, new development following the District Plan Initiative can add value to the whole city, improve the quality of life for existing residents, and prove lucrative for the developers.
How can this win-win scenario be accomplished? Katz reviewed a series of “retooling” ideas for the local real estate industry and land development regulators. He urged a greater concentration on the character of the spaces between buildings, not just on the interiors of houses. He also recommended a switch from conventional zoning and bureaucratic processes to a results-oriented, illustrated code. “Make it easier for developers to do the right thing, easier to build a piece of the livable neighborhoods you want,” Katz said.
Katz described common myths and misconceptions about the business side of building the people-friendly “new urbanist” communities of the sort now enjoying popularity in all regions of the country. “Just slapping up a picket fence in front of the same tract houses and rewriting brochures with jargon about Smart Growth will not make a real livable community, and it won’t generate the financial rewards of the real thing, either.”
He admonished the designers, too, calling for a special attention to details. “Making town centers walkable, for instance,” says Katz, “doesn’t mean you ignore the experience of the motorist or the needs of businesses, as some might think. It means you design the place so that it looks great through the windshield, and really draws customers out of their vehicles to spend money, and it feels great to walk along the sidewalk, too.”
Katz reviewed historical examples of forward-thinking real estate development in California, where key decisions made early on secured long-term success. He then compared the marketing and development processes that are used in conventional sprawl development versus those that are more appropriate for today’s changing marketplace.
In conversations that followed, Katz introduced his concept of “intelligent communities,” the towns where the physical layout, infrastructure, retailers, homebuilders, cultural organizations, regulations, and civic leadership are all cooperating at peak condition to produce an enduring sense of place and to nurture innovation. “These communities,” he said, “will be the ones that consistently outperform the others financially in the coming decades.”Planning Team Prepares for Thursday Presentation
HERCULES, CA, June 27— The round-the-clock process for creating a first-draft plan for the center of Hercules is continuing as planners prepare for a presentation Thursday evening. The presentation will be held at the Hercules Swim Center at 7:30pm.
The old Wells Fargo building on Sycamore Avenue is the scene of a whirlwind of activity amid piles of tracing paper, computer cables, and maps. Since Saturday’s official “hands-on session” with the public, the professionals and technical staff have been re-drawing sketches, debating ideas, and organizing priorities for the District Plan Initiative. Citizens and civic leaders have been dropping by to look over the work in progress, offer suggestions, and listen in as the planners study the alternative solutions with agency staffers, developers, and experts from around the country.
“This open-door design process is as accessible as one can possibly devise,” says Shawn Seaman, project director for Dover, Kohl & Partners, the town planning firm contracted by the City to produce the District Plan. “And many people in Hercules have accepted the invitation to participate. They have been coming by all day and late into the evenings every night, and then returning to watch the work evolve.”
Now the team is preparing to unveil the basic ideas of the plan in the next public forum Thursday night. This week the designers have been creating an extensive array of visuals, including “before-and-after” computer images, renderings, diagrams, and photographs, to make the planning ideas understandable. These images will be projected for the public audience Thursday.
“Thursday’s presentation is extremely important. All the citizen planners who worked together last Saturday should come see how their work has come together, and folks who haven’t attended an event yet can get caught up,” said Seaman.