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Sebastopol to launch General Plan update


Sebastopol, the small town known for big brouhahas over new development, is about to revamp its long-term blueprint for growth.

Updating the city's General Plan, a process expected to take at least 30 months and cost $400,000 or more, will get going in earnest early next year.

City Hall is already laying the groundwork, shopping for a consulting firm to guide the effort and later this month considering the makeup of a citizens advisory committee.

"The city is seeking a forward-thinking, progressive and innovative General Plan that supports Sebastopol's vitality and livability," Planning Director Kenyon Webster said in a request for proposals from consulting firms.

General plans, required by state law, are "a statement of the community's vision of the future," according to Sebastopol's current plan, adopted in 1994.

Going on 20 years old, the plan has exhausted its shelf life, officials say.

"We're all agreed that it's time to do a new one," City Manager Larry McLaughlin said.

Crafting the 1994 plan was "a pretty drawn-out process," he said, and Webster's message to consultants suggested more of the same.

Sebastopol has "an active population, highly engaged in community affairs," he said. "It is anticipated there will be a high level of community involvement with the update."

Although Sebastopol is a city of about 7,500 people, it deals with bigger issues as the hub for a sprawling West County population of 40,000 to 50,000 with the crossroads of two state highways — 12 and 116 — in the heart of its downtown.

Dealing with traffic is likely to be a focus of the plan update, McLaughlin said. Webster's message said the new blueprint should include "promoting pedestrian-oriented development and streetscapes over accommodation of the automobile."

At a community workshop on General Plan issues in February attended by 60 people, concerns were voiced over the city's parking standards and traffic measurement.

Participants suggested that Sebastopol's parking requirements result in "too much land devoted to cars," especially downtown, and should be reviewed.

It was also noted that the assessment of development-related traffic impacts on city streets "may discourage downtown housing and other desirable development."

Jude Kreissman, chairwoman of the 1994 General Plan Advisory Committee, said it was "an amazingly effective document" that helped Sebastopol redirect its growth.

In the early 1990s, the city was ringed by proposals for major housing developments that would promote urban sprawl, Kreissman said.

"At that time development was really piecemeal," she said. "We were not looking at the whole community."

The General Plan was intended to promote "infill development" within city boundaries rather than expanding them, she said.

"We wanted a plan for growth to fit what people wanted."

The plan also "helped establish some legitimacy for environmental, health and development issues that are now much more widely accepted."

Kreissman, a retired teacher, said people have asked her to get involved in the impending update, but she does not intend to do so.

At its Sept. 17 meeting, the City Council is scheduled to discuss the composition of the advisory committee.

McLaughlin said he expects the consultant should be hired and the committee appointed by the end of the year, and work on the new plan could start in January.

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)