Grass Valley to keep Mill Street closed to traffic
Grass Valley will move forward with a plan to use $2.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to keep downtown Mill Street closed to vehicle traffic and create an open public space.
The city first closed part of Mill Street in response to the pandemic last summer, further extending the closure in September and again in January.
“Things changed, we adapted and here we are today with an opportunity to really, in my view, improve our community for the better,” Mayor Ben Aguilar said at the meeting.
The city in January solicited bids to come up with options for what Mill Street, if permanently closed to traffic, could look like, and what other changes would be required to accommodate it. The city plans to negotiate a contract for one of those proposals this week.
City Manager Tim Kiser estimated the design and planning phase could take six to eight months and cost about $250,000 to $300,000.
The project could be completely finished by this time next year if construction starts by mid-January, although the council is still receiving feedback on what construction timeline would minimally impact businesses.
The total project cost could reach up to $4 million, with half a million to replace a water line.
“If you’re going to do all these street improvements the last thing you want to do is dig them up because the water line is leaking,” Kiser said.
Ongoing costs for things like events and clean up could come to $50,000 to $100,000 per year.
The city would look for ways for the funding to come from outside of its general fund, Kiser said.
According to a Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce survey presented at the meeting, 17 Mill Street business owners and employees were in favor of continued closure while seven were against. Out of 1,406 total responses, 75% were in favor of the closure.
Some business owners and residents have complained about parking and delivery issues as well as a lack of walkability and access.
After modifications were made to parking lots in the area, the city had a net loss of 26 parking spaces due to the street closure.
Kiser said the city expects to be able to add 70 more parking spaces within a half mile to accommodate the closure.
Commenters in favor of the closure said the street has been safer, more family friendly, and created a greater sense of community.
“It does build community when you have a space and you invest in it,” Aguilar said. “We have a unique opportunity to really change the infrastructure for the better and create an even more inviting space.”
Penny Short, owner of Tess’ Kitchen and Culinary, asked the council to postpone the vote and reopen the street for three to four months to allow business owners to test the difference and give their feedback.
“Your upcoming vote on the permanent closure of Mill Street is premature, reckless and forced,” Short said. “While several of us have seen an incredible increase in sales in 2020, others have not been as fortunate and need to see results this summer if they are to stay in business in the downtown area.”
The preliminary spending plan for the American Rescue Plan funds approved at the meeting calls for $2 million to be used in converting the street to a permanent outdoor market and about $300,000 for constructing parklets along Main Street.
The remaining funds would be used for smaller, immediate needs like umbrellas, street furniture, event programming assistance and marketing.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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