Downtown dreams: Grass Valley Council hears about different plans for Mill Street |

Downtown dreams: Grass Valley Council hears about different plans for Mill Street

Grass Valley council members on Tuesday discussed the pros and cons of potential Mill Street renovations, though no decision was made.

Kimberly Garza, landscape architect and urban design consultant with Atlas Lab, said the designs were a “big picture” concept rather than a detailed rendering of how the block of Mill Street, between Main and Neal streets, could appear when renovated as a pedestrian plaza.

Garza said many people attended the June 24 interactive forum on Mill Street. Additionally, there were four stakeholder meetings among business owners and city staff.

“People concentrated on comfort – more seating and dining opportunities, more plants and trees with a focus on the paving itself,” said Garza.

The first idea was deemed Downtown Promenade, inspired by Mill Street as a town square. A highlight would be an alternate composition for the roadbed, such as brick paving reflecting Grass Valley history. Then mid-block, a promenade with the goal of having a clear sight lane down the center.

Concept No. 2 was Downtown Mill, named for the original saw mill. The vision is to create urban rooms, perhaps customized with wood or metal accents. The idea is to craft an open plaza area with a series of parklets.

Idea No. 3 is Downtown Quartz. Every business would get its own zone in front of the business with movable chairs and tables. Accessories include granite seating, string lighting, and a tabletop intersection. A ramped intersection raised above Main and Neal streets would act as a traffic-calming device for deliveries.


Council member Bob Branstrom liked the idea of the No. 1 design, with trees alternating on opposite sides of the street, breaking up the monotony of an office corridor.

“Idea Number 1 appeared to have curves going down the middle of the street,” he said. “And, yes, this is the home of hard rock mining, but I don’t think the Quartz approach is going to work. Stone is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And we need to have it so people who use a walker can access it.”

Vice Mayor Jan Arbuckle said that if she had to vote for just one concept, she didn’t think she could. However, she said she didn’t like the Quartz idea.

“I like the temporary performance area with a revolving art show, it’s a part of our culture,” she said. “And I like the parklets, but let’s not cover up the businesses.”

Council member Tom Ivy said he saw good ideas in all the design concepts.

“I like the aspect of idea Number 1 — preserved open space for an authentic skyline … I really like the flexibility in that regard,” he said. “The inclusion of Idea Number 3 to highlight pieces of local art is good. And I love the greenery (recommendation).”

Council member Hilary Hodge said the best thing about the designs is the walkability.

“Mill Street serves the people, but the downtown experience isn’t just parklets or food,” she said. “Let’s not lose sight of shopping and socializing opportunities regarding our amazing downtown.”

Mayor Ben Aguilar raised the question of lighting, especially in the fall when clocks are reset.

“Sometimes when we get out of work at 5 p.m., it’s already dark,” he said.

“Let’s make lighting dynamic,” he added moments later. “It’ll really improve the space. I’m really a fan of string lighting. And let’s incorporate historic lampposts. I really liked the combination of ideas Number 1 and Number 2. But Idea Number 3’s visual aesthetics were not as appealing.”

The council said a notable percentage of residents were over 60, and the hill approaching from the parking lot on South Auburn Street was a challenge and needed to be addressed. Aguilar also recommended permanent restrooms.

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at

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