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November 19, 2013 > Editorial: Does the General Plan exist?

Editorial: Does the General Plan exist?

ItÕs a good thing we donÕt have to write documents with ink and blotter anymore since sometimes the time between the approval of planning documents and requested modifications to them can be counted in what seems to be nanoseconds. I understand the concept of creating a Òliving documentÓ that is flexible and malleable, but when a master plan such as a cityÕs General Plan is completed, shouldnÕt it have considered factors that may influence its dictates within the first few months?

The concept of concentrated commercial nodes at Fremont historic districts, among other areas, separated by residential, industrial and other types of development, was explored when the City studied the Fremont Boulevard spine concept. It appears that an ad hoc and irregular adherence to this concept is taking hold as patches of commercial are disappearing, replaced by housing, child care and other non-retail environments.

Scattered among pre- and after-school businesses that have smothered shopping centers, owners of commercial property are scrambling to get in on goodies offered by residential developers. The latest in this grab for cash without regard to the health of retail counterparts is the Connolly property in Irvington.

Irrespective of the concept of a thriving Irvington and following in the path of residential development encroaching more and more on retail districts, Irvington is faced with the prospect of a patchwork of retail, mortally choked by residential and other non-retail development. Following the example of Òmixed useÓ along Grimmer Boulevard that resulted in one small and inefficient retail space, lost within hundreds of residential units, the concept of a lively, walkable area near a myriad of retail establishments continues to evaporate.

This passion for housing without concomitant support or attention to schools, shops, entertainment and other amenities is a road to nowhere. Fremont is ignoring its roots and, it appears, intent on creating a bland, faceless mass without retaining and expanding its character, so vital to a unique identity. The only excitement elicited from our public officials is confined to two ÒnewÓ development areas, one at the Civic Center/Downtown and the other at Warm Springs BART.

How should the City treat unimaginative and failing shopping centers? So far, the attitude seems to be to let them die and replace with housing. Is this dynamic and innovative leadership? Even if current businesses have failed to keep up with the changing face of Fremont, is it a signal to simply give up and use every square foot of current retail space for housing? Other cities have revitalized their shopping districts with good transportation connections and support for new, thriving, innovative businesses. Why canÕt Fremont do this?

The current proposal presented to the Planning Commission for the Connolly property cites the General Plan in favor of Òpruning backÓ existing retail space to ÒÉhelp sustain other retail centers in the City, provide opportunities for more intense housing and civic or group assembly uses while ensuring that residents continue to have convenient access to goods and servicesÉÓ This becomes a form of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) for developers as they argue that it is okay for other retail establishments to compete and reenergize their business practices, but their own property should be allowed to convert to residential and make a quick buck even if it undermines the concept they advocate.

Horticulturists know that good pruning is designed to invigorate, not devastate. If done correctly, it is an exacting process that encourages strength and harmony. Although the effort may involve significant planning, education and extra thought about the desired result, the final product is worth it.

Are we going to be good gardeners or allow the weeds of economic vagary control our destiny? What do General Plans and Specific Plans really mean?

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