Architects Envision New Projects

Eric Hass

A development vision hatched by architects and Orinda residents Peter Hasselman and Bill Simpson calls for a series of predictive ordinances and public works to refashion downtown Orinda and the Village in the image of communities like Mill Valley. The plan has existed in some form for decades, but only recently have the two begun a public campaign in support of the idea.

Hasselman and Simpson have identified the obstacles to a thriving retail and services scene in Orinda Village and Theater Square as those sectors’ limitation to one main street, a lack of productive locations, and cars’ domination of public space. In addition, Orinda Senior Village Elders don’t have many housing options with services within walking distance. They plan to fix these problems with laws and mandates for the city.

They have specified the few steps that must be taken, mainly code alterations. Their plan will extend building height limits to 55 feet while shrinking the façade limit to 27 feet. The city will also take control of more public spaces for beautification. Some retirement and low-income housing may be built to augment current weaknesses in those areas. Hasselman and Simpson also proposed a new pedestrian bridge from the Theatre to the Village to replace the current “claustrophobic” one underneath the highway.

Hasselman also had in mind an increased youth presence downtown. He imagines a smaller replica of the Spanish Steps in Rome replacing the BevMo parking lot as a place for teens to “play their guitars, drink Cokes…watch the sun go down over the Orinda hills, and have a great time.”

Orinda levies a transfer tax on real estate sales to fund the city. The tax may increase if the nebulous plan’s recommendations are implemented.

During the current recession, it’s unlikely that Orinda residents will support such changes. It’s improbable that anything will be built until after the recession, but likely before the majority of local Baby Boomers retire.

One of the next steps the group behind the committee will take is to locate the development window when buildings need to be replaced and there is money enough to do so, and to have a plan ready for this time.

A public meeting is scheduled for April 27 in the Orinda Library Auditorium to incorporate the public’s opinion.