With an eye toward further economic development of the North Sierra Highway corridor, the Bishop City Council recently approved Inyo County’s request for city partnership in applying for a $750,000 Sustainable Communities Planning Grant.
The funds would pay for preparation of the North Sierra Highway Specific Plan and its attendant Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, Inyo County Planning Director Joshua Hart said at the Feb. 10 City Council meeting. The Specific Plan details how the county – and partner agencies – would transform the North Sierra Highway corridor into a thriving commercial district.
Hart presented a draft summary of the Specific Plan. The area addressed in the plan stretches from the Paiute Palace Casino (and possibly west of there) to the Tri-County Fairgrounds/U.S. Route 6/Wye Road area; it even may go farther east to where the county is considering construction of a consolidated county building, Hart said.
Although the approximately two-mile Specific Plan area is on under-developed, unincorporated county land, the draft describes the post-World War II stretch of the highway under consideration as the primary north-south route through the county. The roadway is partially bordered by Bishop and the Bishop Paiute Reservation and is “a main artery” for about 18,000 people, which includes a regional population of about 12,000 and 5,000 city dwellers. Additionally, current North Sierra Highway bike lanes are used by pedestrians en route to destinations such as Paiute Palace Casino, the city’s major shopping center and downtown Bishop, so that people are essentially walking on the highway, states the draft, which Hart distributed to council members.
“It’s also a school pathway,” Councilwoman Laura Smith added.
The draft summary details the benefits of “smart growth” along North Sierra Highway to promote “development and redevelopment for this diverse commercial strip.”
• Sustainable economic development and promotion of region-wide, broad-spectrum interests;
• Decreased auto use and increased transit and non-vehicular transportation use – as an aside, Hart also mentioned a possible equestrian path, median and sidewalks on both sides of the roadway;
• Development of affordable housing;
• “Protection of natural resources and agricultural lands;” and
• Commercial revitalization.
The document includes revitalization possibilities, such as:
• Reorienting the fairgrounds with a new main northern entry on the North Sierra Highway and relocating some fair uses in the Specific Plan area;
• Synergy with the casino and other potential development on the reservation;
• Realization of aspects of the City of Bishop General Plan and the county’s 2001 General Plan, which “envisions focused development in and adjacent to existing communities,” including the Specific Plan area; and
• “A diverse mix” of commercial, manufacturing, residential, ranch, open space, institution and other possibilities along this corridor, various sections of which “have been identified for release pursuant to the Long-term Water Agreement between Inyo County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,” states the draft summary.
Hart recently polled the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority board about the project with a positive result, Councilman Dave Stottlemyre said. The county has already received a letter of support for the project from the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority and, on Feb. 18, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors “approved a submission of the grant application,” Hart said. The county hopes to receive similar letters from the tribe, Mule Days, the Tri-County Fairgrounds, Caltrans and others, he said. Bishop Public Works Director Dave Grah added that Caltrans has expressed safety concerns regarding the North Sierra Highway corridor.
On Feb. 19, the Inyo County Local Transportation Commission approved its support for the grant application, said Smith, who is also an LTC commissioner and vice chair. “By giving our support, we’re also agreeing to help with the matching amount,” she said.
According to Hart, a Strategic Growth Council-administered state grant award requires a 10 percent match, or $75,000, from the county, 5 percent of which must be cash and 5 of which can be in-kind, such as labor. As a partner, if LTC weren’t able to provide those funds, the city could be called upon to provide $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in staff time, City Administrator Keith Caldwell said – an expenditure that could come out of the city’s 2014-15 fiscal year budget.
Councilman Keith Glidewell received Hart’s assurance that the city would receive continuous updates on the grant application and North Sierra Highway Specific Plan development processes.
“We’re excited to work with the county on this project,” Caldwell said. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the county to look forward, toward economic development.”