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Close to Home: A downtown for Rohnert Park

A map showing Rohnert Park's downtown planning area.

LOIS FISHER,

LOIS FISHER IS AN URBAN DESIGNER WITH FISHER TOWN DESIGN.

While Rohnert Park doesn’t currently have a downtown, it is a high priority for the city. In a community survey earlier this year, a new downtown was a top choice among the things residents would like to see developed in Rohnert Park.

To date, the city has developed a library, a Public Safety station and a plaza that hosts a weekly farmer’s market in the downtown city center area.

In anticipation of SMART rail service, Rohnert Park adopted an area plan in 2016 that envisioned a more walkable mix of commercial and residential land uses in the core area. The next step is implementing that plan. From Monday through Thursday, the city will be hosting a four-day urban-design session, known as a “charrette,” to provide the community with an opportunity to provide input to this important planning effort: What should downtown Rohnert Park look like?

Rohnert Park’s downtown area, when built out, will create an interconnected “public realm” at the city’s core. A public realm is an area like a street or plaza that is designed to be walkable, is owned by the public and where everyone is welcome. Multiple options for the configuration of apartments, restaurants, offices, shops and parks and the resulting public realm will be designed, tested, presented and critiqued by attendees through the charrette. A large-scale, 3-D printed model of the downtown area will change each day as the plans develop.

A typical planning process would focus on assigning specific land uses to each parcel and separating that land use from others by using setbacks and parking lots. This charrette instead will focus on how the physical forms of the downtown — buildings, streets, parks and plazas — can connect with one another in ways that create enjoyable and walkable places. A special zoning code will be outlined that will put the focus on creating the desired physical characteristics of the neighborhood.

What are these characteristics?

Think of the qualities that make up downtowns that you love to visit. Are the blocks short? Is it easy to get around on foot? Do you feel safe? Are there interesting things to look at as you are walking down the sidewalk? Are the sidewalks wide enough? Do the cars move slowly? Is there parallel or diagonal parking on the street? Are there places that draw you back time and again like movie theaters, restaurants and museums? Is there shade on a hot day?

These are the qualities that can be included in the new form-based code that will provide a master plan for development of downtown Rohnert Park. Its goal will be to guide multiple developers to each build their individual project in sync with a larger grand vision. That vision is a place where Rohnert Park residents and families can enjoy a unique and walkable downtown.

The charrette will be held at 6250 State Farm Drive (at Rohnert Park Expressway), beginning Monday. The design studio will be open beginning at 10 a.m. on most days, and community meetings will begin between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. most nights. See www.rpcity.org/downtown for a complete schedule of events.

We will ultimately know that this effort was successful when we see families, children, office workers, students, visitors and everyone else enjoying the new public realm at the heart of Rohnert Park.

Lois Fisher is an urban designer with Fisher Town Design.