RIVERBANK — The City Council took another step Monday night toward reviving the quiet downtown with perhaps hundreds of new homes mixed with shops and other attractions.
The council voted 3-0 to certify the environmental impact report for the Downtown Riverbank Specific Plan.
City officials stressed that the approval does not mean any particular project has been approved.
The vote was welcomed by Rick DiNapoli, the San Jose-based co-owner of a former cannery that could become a western extension of downtown under the plan.
"It's a very necessary and important first step that this city, or any city that wants to do anything, must go through," he said.
The vote came over the objection of Evelyn Halbert, who said the city did not inform her and other downtown residents that their blocks were part of the plan.
She said the increased density would generate traffic.
"If you widen the streets, you're taking somebody's property," she said. "Downtown streets aren't that big."
Mayor Richard O'Brien and Councilwomen Dotty Nygard and Jeanine Tucker voted for the EIR. Councilwoman Darlene Barber-Martinez withdrew from the discussion to avoid a conflict of interest. The fifth seat is vacant.
The EIR vote allows the council to move on at some point to voting on the downtown plan itself. It is designed to help property owners build on vacant or underused parcels to create a walkable downtown, with buildings as tall as four stories in some places.
The plan calls for nearly 900 new housing units, mostly town houses and apartments, along with retail, offices and other uses. Much of the development would be at the former California Fruit and Tomato Kitchens cannery, including possibly a sports and entertainment complex.
DiNapoli said the exact uses and time line for his project are not yet known. The cannery is cut off from downtown by a busy railroad track, but the developers plan an underpass at Santa Fe Street.
Much of the revival will depend on the recovery of the real estate market, which has been slower in Stanislaus County than across the state and nation.
In 2007, Riverbank's redevelopment agency spent $1.7 million to buy the Del Rio Theater in hopes of transforming it into a performing arts center. The money came from $15.4 million in redevelopment bonds sold to remove blight and build sidewalks, storm drains, landscaping and other features downtown. But the redevelopment agency's finances nose-dived in the real estate crash. It couldn't meet its annual bond payments and walked away from the debt in 2012. The Del Rio Theater since has been condemned.
The city's planners also are counting on people to favor compact development, which could reduce fuel use and pressure on farmland.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.