Plan critical to fast-growing community's future

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There's certainly no town in Tuolumne County that will grow faster or change more profoundly in the years to come than Tuolumne.

That's why the county is right in moving it to the front of the line for its own community plan.

The interest is there: More than 60 people showed to discuss plan priorities more than a year ago and last week just as many came to Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall to discuss the plan's first draft, prepared by Sonora planning consultant Amy Augustine for the county's Community Development Department.

A Municipal Advisory Council has been formed to help shape the plan and give Tuolumne a stronger voice.

But it's not too late to get involved: The deadline for written comment on the plan has been extended from Jan. 9 until Feb. 2. (mail to CDD, 2 S. Green St., Sonora, CA. 95370). Also, the Tuolumne Design Review-Planning Advisory Committee will consider the plan Thursday (7:30 p.m., Memorial Hall).

A brief look at Tuolumne's past shows how important a plan is to its future.

Me-Wuk Indians are believed to have settled in the area more than 500 years ago, making a living off fields, creeks and acorn-rich oaks. The first waves from the Gold Rush hit in 1854, with the arrival of homesteaders Franklin and Elizabeth Summers, for whom the new community was named.

After the easy gold gave out, Summersville became Carters and then Tuolumne the thriving home of the West Side Flume and Lumber Co. The mill shut during the Depression, but reopened in 1934 and operated until the early 1960s, when it closed for good. Lean economic times followed, but when the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk opened Black Oak Casino in 2001, the waning community got a multi-million dollar shot in the arm.

Although the casino is on Indian land and exempt from county control, the influx of cash, jobs and visitors has transformed what for years had been a poverty-stricken backwater. Tuolumne is still riding this economic wave.

Suddenly change is not only possible, but inevitable. What's crucial, however, is the direction that change will take.

Will Tuolumne rush headlong into the blinding, hypnotic lights of the future, forgetting its colorful and historic past?

Or will it proceed more carefully, investing in and enriching its rich heritage as a lumber town?

The latter, comments at the 2005 meeting and the direction of the just-released draft plan show, is the community's choice.

A plan cornerstone is to establish a redevelopment district which would finance restoration and renovation of Tuolumne's downtown area, including the lumber company's handsome old buildings. When paired with the Cherry Valley Golf Club, a residential and commercial development proposed by the Me-Wuk on the old mill site, the plan could give rise to a new, vibrant community whose more-than-century-old roots are part of its charm.

But the devil is in the details and many decisions must be made before the 25-year plan is adopted. Land-use designations, streetlight and sign design, rules limiting outdoor storage, parking and traffic circulation plans, a strategy to beautify and clean up alleys, preserving street-side trees, providing affordable housing, creating gateways at town entrances and more are all part of the draft plan.

Also at issue is how such plan provisions will be paid for and enforced.

For many, all this may seem too conceptual or remote to warrant consideration.

Not true: Tuolumne's plan, like those of other communities, will become a detailed and enforceable part of the county General Plan. By law, all zoning and other land-use decisions must be consistent with the plan.

So you can voice your concerns now, and help shape policy before it is adopted. Or you can wait and do it the hard way, complaining about plan provisions after they are adopted.

Please, share your thoughts on the issue. Write to .

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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