A City If You Can Keep It: Gray Area: Growth by position, not segregation

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A Winters Express opinion column

By Richard Casavecchia
Special to the Express

How can we manage the growth of our town in a smart, responsible way? What is the next smallest, incremental thing we can do to grow to meet our needs so that growth is consistent and manageable rather than huge and sporadic?

To break these questions down, we need to define smart responsible growth for Winters. Growth should be sustainable in a way that pays for itself and the additional resources and services it requires, or minimize the strain on our current system.

Growth by outward expansion adds additional maintenance costs in the form of more roads, pipes, and planters for every additional mile, foot, and inch. Additional wells, new fire capabilities, new regulations with population increases, and more police to cover more area. All will be required and paid for with money we don’t have. Incremental change allows inevitable growth to happen in a more manageable way, but we have to create opportunity for it.

We often think of infill as developing empty lots that are already surrounded by buildings, or tearing down old buildings and replacing them with new ones. But we should also consider the repurposing of existing buildings for new ideas not allowed by old zoning.

Rigid zoning can be a restriction on infill.

Zoning is, by definition, the segregation of land by use. Houses over here, public space near the creek, shops over there, add in some mixed-use retail/residential and divide it with streets. Growth typically occurs in pre-designated zones. So new nonresidential buildings in Winters will likely be placed across from Round Table, next to PG&E, north on Railroad or north of Taco Bell. And houses must be built on land pre-designated for them, next to Lorenzo’s Market, where the fruit stand is, across from the Catholic Church, at the end of Walnut Lane and north of the high school Ag site.

Remember, the city’s role in growth is setting up the rules for how and where not implementing the what and when.

Downtown Winters is the economic center of our city, but it is limited in size by the zoning. But what if our zoning was flexible? What if every zone could expand and contract as needed in small incremental ways?

This might be done by allowing properties on the border of two zones to use the characteristics of either zone as if they were in each. A “Gray Zone” if you will.

So, if the owner of a house across the street from a commercial building wanted to open up a business that conforms to the zoning of the neighboring commercial building, that would be allowed. Likewise, the commercial building could be converted to housing if the proper changes were made to conform to the residential zoning of the aforementioned home. Both examples would move the zone boundary line and allow our zones to expand and contract to support local creative ideas and meet new needs without the government unnecessarily complicating it as our city changes. The guidelines for how would be predetermined.

This would allow for natural incremental growth. Growth by position, not segregation. Zoning would flex to meet new needs in a controlled, predictable way. Commercial buildings could become housing. Housing could become small local community shops or businesses. Community enhancement and development become locally controlled at the lowest level by the people it affects.

I won’t pretend to know all the intricacies of the state zoning regulation, so I can’t say if there is something preventing us from making Gray Zones a reality. But I think this is a good idea to build on that addresses many of the development issues on all sides of the debate.

This section is new. I’ve decided to try adding a few sentences as needed to communicate information that otherwise doesn’t need a full-on column. On Jan. 10, we approved a Waste Management rate increase that will result in an average increase of $0.79 per bill. This was due to a pass-through cost from the county landfill increasing their costs. Our existing contract with Waste Management does not have any discretion on increases like this that I saw. Fortunately, it is not a significant increase.

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