The Vision Sonora Committee voted 4-0 on Thursday to endorse permanently closing the section of Linoberg Street between South Washington and Stewart streets and made recommendations for changes to the proposed design.
A subcommittee provided some digital renderings of what the street could look like if closed to vehicles and turned into a pedestrian plaza or turned into a “convertible street” that could be closed to vehicles temporarily for events.
“I see it as an economic development opportunity for the city as well,” said Rachelle Kellogg, the city’s community development director who also serves as a member of the committee.
The other three members of the committee who voted at Thursday’s public meeting in favor of closing the street permanently were Sonora Mayor Connie Williams, chairwoman of the committee, Councilman Mark Plummer, and Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council.
Committee members who were not in attendance were City Administrator Tim Miller, District 1 Tuolumne County Supervisor Sherri Brennan, and District 4 Tuolumne County Supervisor John Gray.
About a dozen people attended the meeting and provided input. Five of those in attendance are part of the core design team that came up with the preliminary concepts for the street.
Most people didn’t like the proposed concept for a convertible street because they felt the metallic overhanging shade structure with laser-cut designs did not fit with downtown Sonora’s overall historic aesthetic.
“Now that we’ve come this far, I like the permanent closure better,” said Marianne Wright, a downtown Sonora business owner. “I think it’s more simple, natural and historic looking.”
Potted plants would be used to provide shading if the street is permanently closed, as opposed to the overhanging structure. There would also be lights zig-zagging overhead. The permanent closure could also add two parking spaces to South Washington Street on each side of Linoberg Street.
Goodhue Investments, based in Piedmont, owns the buildings on each side of the street that house Diamondback Grill, Mountain Home Gifts, and the Sonora Tap Room.
The Sonora Tap Room is the only business with an entrance on the portion of the street that would be closed and its owners have supported the permanent-closure idea.
Neil B. Goodhue, president and partner of Goodhue Investments, sent an email that Williams read out loud Thursday expressing strong support for the street closure and granting permission to paint a mural on the side of the building that houses the Diamondback Grill.
Williams said they don’t know how much the project will cost because the final designs have yet to be completed and approved. Frank Uzzardo, owner of the Diamondback Grill, suggested asking for the money from his landlord, Goodhue, whom he described as a “multi-millionaire.”
The recommendations for changes to the proposed design were replacing the bollards that would block vehicles from entering with something more relative to the area like old tractor wheels.
There have been several attempts over the years to close the section of Linoberg Street, but the Sonora City Council has shot down the project based on past traffic studies and opposition from city residents.
A recent traffic study found that 241 vehicles used the street over a 24-hour period on Friday, April 21 last year. The study also found 180 vehicles drove the street on Saturday, April 22, and 14 vehicles on Sunday, April 23.
Caltrans has estimated that more than 16,000 vehicles travel on Washington Street on average each day.
“I’d note that 200-and-something cars a day is very, very small number in the traffic world,” said Grossi, the executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council. “I think we could close it (Linoberg Street) with minimal impact.”
Previous public hearings related to moving forward with the traffic study drew intense debate from people both for and against closing the street.
Laurie Lehmann, a member of the Vision Sonora Design and Marketing Committee, said she tallied the responses on Facebook to an article in The Union Democrat that previewed the meeting on Thursday and most people who commented and reacted supported the closure.
Colette Such, president of the Columbia College Foundation Board of Directors, said she often drives down the street and supports the closure, but she warned against straying too far from the historic look of the downtown area.
“I think that would really add a nice touch downtown,” she said. “However, I would like to see that it is more in line with the actual architecture of Sonora.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.