As members of the Monterey Planning Commission arrived for a publicly announced field trip to North Fremont Street, the surrounding roads were clogged with traffic, the nearby CVS parking lot was full, and a stream of pedestrians flowed by.
It was the afternoon of Friday, May 24, and the visit to the site of a proposed mixed-use real estate project coincided with the opening of the 10th annual California Roots Festival at the nearby Monterey Fairgrounds.
In the lineup for that evening were Steel Pulse, Atmosphere and Stick Figure and they beckoned droves of concert-goers who had adorned themselves with butterfly wings and other whimsical outfits.
Amid the backdrop of Cali Roots chaos, Monterey city planner Ande Flower invited planning commissioners Michael Dawson and Terry Latasa as well two local residents to examine the lot on the corner of North Fremont and Airport Road. It’s currently in use for the staging of construction supplies for ongoing work on Fremont, as well as home to a liquor store.
Nearly an acre in size, the undeveloped site – once home to Eddie’s Restaurant – could be transformed into a three-story building with shops and parking on the ground floor and 40 apartments on the top two floors. Eight of those would be designated as low-income units.
The back of the proposed building faces a neighborhood of single-family houses. In order to make it less imposing, the upper floors would be set back from the property line. “We call it a wedding cake design,” Flower says.
This doesn’t satisfy Richard Rucello, president of the Casanova Oak Knoll Neighborhood Association, who says three stories is too many.
“We are a suburban area and this is going to change our character,” he says. “This is what happens when the decision-makers live on a hill over there and they do their social justice down here.”
Changing the character of the area is the stated intention of the city, as defined by the North Fremont Specific Plan. The project, located on 2200 and 2210 North Fremont St., is intended as an anchor for what’s referred to in city documents as a “mixed-use village.”
The idea is to foster the same kind of transformation that happened on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, says City Manager Hans Uslar.
“The project could be a great incubator for further development and urban revitalization,” Uslar says.
On May 28, the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve the project, after many members of the public spoke out in support of housing. “That’s a changing of the tide,” Flower says.