It was an incredible opportunity — over ten undeveloped acres within the Grass Valley city limits, directly in the “path of progress.” Located directly on busy South Auburn Street, and backing up to Empire Mine State Park, it seemed the perfect site for designing a mixed use, pedestrian-oriented community, which could combine open space and trails with retail, office space, and reasonably-priced housing.
One of the larger undeveloped parcel remaining within the Grass Valley city limits, the site had tall conifers, native grasses, a large swath of wetland and a seasonal drainage flowing from adjacent Empire Mine State Park These natural assets posed both opportunities — for trees, trails, and open space areas that could provide added value to the project — and constraints, with federal restrictions on development near wetlands, and state concerns regarding potential toxic mining residues draining across the property from Empire Mine. How could these issues be addressed, and important visual and environmental resources preserved, while providing the density of development appropriate for an urban infill project?
Traffic is invariably a major concern, particularly with urban infill projects, both for neighbors of the project and for the decision-makers whose approval will be required. Its location on busy South Auburn Street, one of the major roads into downtown Grass Valley, was a mixed blessing for the site — though the street was fast moving, and would be able to accommodate the added volume from a proposed development, the awkward and unsafe diagonal intersection with Whiting Street would require a creative solution before any development could proceed.
A classic, mixed use development combining retail and office space, affordable apartments, and duplex townhomes. The large wetland area was left undeveloped, except for a trail passing through which would provide access through to property to Empire Mine Park.
The challenging intersection of Whiting and South Auburn Streets required a creative solution: a roundabout, large enough to accommodate trucks, which would make the intersection safer and more efficient, as well as provide a landscaped entry statement along this significant approach into downtown Grass Valley.
Community Open Space:
The great opportunity in urban design is the creation of public space — space for people to spend time with one another, with nature, and by themselves. Knitted throughout the design of the Village were plazas, pathways, and protected natural areas.
The Public Presentation:
The public process can be a minefield, but in contemporary planning there is no way around it. The public will have a lot to say about any project – particularly an urban infill project that will have an indelible impact upon their neighborhood, and perhaps deprive them of open spaces and vistas they had come to take for granted. We believe in proactive outreach to all a project’s stakeholders, and for South Auburn we held numerous meetings with a wide range of neighborhood groups, city staff, and council members. A well-prepared and well-delivered presentation can go a long way toward resolving a community’s concern. The project was approved with a gratifying amount of support from its neighbors.
The Submittal Set:
The key to a successful development application is a clear, detailed and consistent set of submittal documents. The documents provided for the Village successfully addressed the concerns of City staff, planners and council members, and assured the application’s smooth sailing through the approval process.
The Site Today:
As they say, timing is everything, and the project was not able to survive the economic downturn. Despite the years of investment and effort, and the approved map, the property went to tax sale and portions were purchased by different individuals, fragmenting the property and forever depriving the community of the opportunities that a plan of this scale would have provided.