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Changes to Third Avenue get easier Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jan 29 2011 12:00 PM

The Chula Vista city council on Tuesday approved minor amendments to the city's Urban Core Specific Plan, which will give Third Avenue a facelift.

The anticipated changes to the downtown area has concerns from residents including a negative impact on merchant business, diminishing the area's historical character, extended medians and diverted traffic to already heavily impacted streets.

Included in the amendments are narrowing Third Avenue between E and H Streets from a four to two-lane road, changing residential parking standards and adding outdoor dining design guidelines.

Director of Development Services for the city, Gary Halbert said narrowing the streets is an example of a "road diet." He said this will calm traffic, decrease speeding and force motorists to window shop from cars.

City staff from the engineering and planning departments gave a presentation of their most recent progress Tuesday, which incorporated many suggestions made by residents since 2008.

Vice-president of Crossroads II Peter Watry is concerned the changes will hurt Third Avenue businesses.

"I can't see why all this will attract more business," Watry said. "I don't think it will help but we won't know until they do it."

The project is based off the original Urban Core Specific Plan and was envisioned to create a modern public transit system, improved bikeway facilities and walkable neighborhoods on Chula Vista's northwest side. In 2007, the proposal was given to council, who passed it with a majority vote.

The project is designated as a "smart growth" area. The city's landscape planner Garry Williams said smart growth is a principle that uses multi-model design for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

Additional project features include creating pedestrian refuges to enhance cross-walk safety, additional landscaping, new signage, removing clutter, improving medians and adding more foliage.

The top three concerns among residents included removing clutter, improving the medians and adding landscaping and color with plants.

Williams said the project will spur new development and revitalize the downtown area.

Funding for the project comes from a $2.1 million SANDAG grant, as well as other local and federal grant money specifically for transportation projects.

Phase 1 funding is estimated between $3.8 and $4.3 million.

Initially expected to break ground in early 2011 for completion in the summer, city engineer Richard Hopkins said the project isn't quite "in the can."

Staff recommended a final public outreach and estimate they could bring back the final design in three weeks, with construction beginning in two to three months.

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox expressed her concern that late construction will disrupt the city's centennial exposition celebration in October.

Board Member of the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce Greg Mattson said he wants to move forward without additional public outreach. "It will take too long and interfere with the timeline," he said.

Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar said a design charrette should be done as a final effort to finish the design process. "We're not starting all over, we're just closing the loop," she said. "Some communities have what I call sacred places ... Third Avenue Village is one of those places."

Councilman Steve Castaneda said it makes sense to get more input. "I just don't think it's ready to pull out of the oven yet," he said.

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