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Planners approve outdoor seating for hotel

Staff writer
Directly following a presentation by the City of Winters Parking Committee at the Sept. 27 planning commission meeting, the commission held a public hearing and ultimately approved a modification to the downtown hotel project that eliminates three parking spaces on the Railroad Avenue side of the property.
The goal of the modification is to expand outdoor seating for the planned hotel and restaurant on the ground level to create a more open and inviting feel, according to the staff report. Buckhorn owner John Pickerel plans to partner with the hotel to create a new restaurant for the space.
While the timing of the elimination of the spots appears to clash with the impacted state of downtown parking, the solutions sought by the parking committee are larger in scope than three spaces. That solution is still uncertain, but should take shape with the help of newly contracted parking consulting firm Kimley Horn.
City manager John Donlevy reviewed the background for this proposed change all the way back to 2003, before any of the outdoor seating areas and bulb-outs were constructed downtown.
He said the purpose was to make the downtown somewhere people would walk around and explore, rather than just park in front of one business and only stop there. The creation of the 82 parking spaces and Rotary Park was meant to facilitate the park-once-and-walk model for Winters.
“We feel that it’s extremely important that the walkability continues,” said hotel developer Mike Olivas.
“This is a destination project — it has to create a demand,” said Pickerel. “We use people to chum. We use people to attract more people. We’re exchanging three parking spaces for gathering spaces,” he said.
Pickerel also spoke about the marketing campaign for Highway 128 as a destination trip. As the eastern terminus of the highway, he argued Winters could stand to benefit from increased tourism, as long as the businesses are constructed correctly with social gathering in mind.
“We must have new reasons to go forward, and we must have a catalyst. People will gather, and it’s all about gathering places.”
Turkovich wines owner Chris Turkovich agreed with Pickerel about the priority of seating over parking.
“Outdoor seating is way more valuable than parking spaces. It sets the stage for the rest of downtown,” he said.
As one of the leaders of the parking committee, Turkovich has spent much of the past year lobbying for the city to fund solutions for more downtown parking.
“It’s not the place to do it with those three spots,” said Turkovich.
Wade Cowan also spoke during the public hearing in support of the modification.
“We need this thing built and we need this thing soon. To deny this would be a step backwards by at least a decade,” said Cowan.
All of the comments during the public hearing spoke to Pickerel’s dedication and vision for downtown that has played a huge role in elevating the district as a destination. There was some concern that another restaurant partner would not utilize the outdoor space as well as the Buckhorn owner, which was the only major source of hesitation from the commission.
The commission approved the modification and elimination of the three spaces unanimously, with the condition that the developer will pay an $8,100 in-lieu fee for the sacrificed parking.
According to Olivas, this design change will delay the project 30 days.
Ordinance updates
Community development director David Doswell proposed changes to two chapters of municipal code, both meant to clarify and expand existing definitions for more consistent and thorough enforcement.
He proposed adding a section on non-medical marijuana sale and possession to the list of defined public nuisances, as well as more specific definitions for what constitutes waste, which becomes a nuisance. Doswell said the changes were intended to allow the city to recover costs of enforcement and litigation more easily, and make sure the process is legal.
“We are not looking for reasons to go after people for potential nuisances. We are still complaint-based,” said Doswell.
He said these changes were proposed after an incident earlier in the month on Neimann Street.
The changes to the zoning ordinance made definitions consistent throughout the text. After the hotel required an exemption to build to a height of 45 feet, Doswell is also proposing to raise the height for downtown businesses to allow new building to reach that height as a new maximum.
The commission approved recommending the edits unanimously. The city council will have the final word on authorizing the changes.

Changing of the guard
Gregory Contreras was sworn in as the newest planning commissioner, taking over a spot vacated by Bill Biasi, who was elected to the city council in the June election.
All planning commissioners are appointed by the city council and serve for a four-year period.
Biasi also served as planning commission chairperson, and with his leave, the commission unanimously voted for commissioner Kate Frazier to take over that role. Commissioner Paul Meyer will serve as vice chair, also following a unanimous aye vote.
The planning commission meets next on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.