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Linden Avenue Could Serve as Roadmap for Improving Old Town Goleta

Planners say changes Carpinteria made more than a decade ago would breathe new life into Old Town

As the city of Goleta mulls how to make improvements to Old Town, some say there’s a successful example of redevelopment just a few miles down the highway — Carpinteria’s Linden Avenue.

Last month, Goleta’s City Council and Redevelopment Agency directed staff to look into a facade rehabilitation program for the Old Town area. The program Goleta officials are examining has been used successfully in Fontana in San Bernardino County. Staff say Fontana’s downtown had many of the same challenges facing Old Town Goleta: historic buildings, used for a variety of purposes, all in various stages of upkeep.

But looking to Carpinteria may hold more similarities than looking as far as San Bernardino.

Although the project took place more than a decade ago, Noozhawk caught up with some of the original planners who worked on the Linden Avenue improvements.

Bob Nisbet, who now works as Santa Barbara County’s director of general services, was the public works director for Carpinteria during the improvements. He said one of the initial motivations to get the project done was that it might boost economic development by making the area more desirable for pedestrians and shoppers. The project became a partnership between the city and businesses, said Nisbet, who added that “consensus was a challenge” in terms of coming up with unified design elements.

“Lots of meetings were held about parking and whether to incorporate outside dining, what street trees to use,” he said. “That all came up during the discussions.”

Even though there were disagreements, the group eventually managed to reach consensus.

With Carpinteria and Old Town, Nisbet says there are similarities.

“I can see that they want a vibrant downtown that you want to hang out and shop and live in,” he said. “I’m assuming those are the kinds of goals they all have.”

But there are differences, too, and Nisbet believes Goleta’s project is going to be more challenging, for two reasons. The first being that businesses are already competing with other establishments outside of Old Town, such as those in the Fairview and Camino Real shopping centers.

“They’ve already allowed Home Depot in, and people go to that shopping center to hang out and see a movie,” Nisbet said.

That’s competition that Carpinteria didn’t have, with most of its businesses centralized in the Linden area. Another challenge comes with traffic. Hollister Avenue, which bisects Old Town, is a major thoroughfare with greater traffic volume than Linden Avenue.

Steve Wagner, another planner who worked on the Linden project but now works for the city of Goleta, agrees.

“Carpinteria is a two-lane corridor that has maybe 5,000 (car) trips a day, while Goleta is a four-lane corridor that has 25,000 to 30,000 trips a day,” he said.

Nevertheless, Wagner said, tools such as bike paths, medians, pedestrian improvements and street furniture could all be incorporated into Old Town, just as they were on Linden.

“(Old Town) is pretty stark; there’s not a lot of vegetation, a lot of pavement,” he said. “I hope to see nice landscaping and the theme of street furniture and lighting, wide sidewalks and a nice downtown feel to it.”

Laura Funkhouser, a 15-year Old Town resident and former president of Goleta Valley Beautiful, said widespread agreement exists on Old Town’s need for trees and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians.

“Linden Avenue does all of that and more,” she said.

The street improvements Carpinteria has done could very quickly achieve a sprucing up of the neighborhood that unifies the area, Funkhouser said.

“Old Town’s additional challenges are to provide better access from the other side of Highway 101, calm traffic and make the Hollister corridor much, much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists,” she said.

Anyone who has traveled through that stretch on bicycle would probably echo the need for a bike lane, and Funkhouser said a pedestrian overpass could be used as well, connecting Old Town and Calle Real over Highway 101.

“Santa Barbara has three pedestrian overpasses and Goleta has none,” she said.

Calming traffic on Hollister could also be accomplished by removing the middle lane on certain blocks so that sidewalks could be widened.

“Old Town needs better traffic control than the pedestrian signals in front of the Goleta (Valley) Community Center and the Natural Cafe,” Funkhouser said.

What about the businesses that could be affected by the changes?

Carmen Robitaille, owner of Robitaille’s Candies on Linden Avenue in Carpinteria, said her business didn’t suffer during the process of updating because “people want their candy. You can’t really buy what we sell anywhere else in town,” she said, adding that before, “it was a mish-mash of store fronts. ... There was no continuity, it didn’t look all like it should be.”

She said the updates amounted to a “facelift” for the street, and though she’s not a fan of all the changes — such as the bulb-outs that were installed — she said she’s happy with the results.

“It’s a pleasant-looking place to shop,” Robitaille said, “and it’s been an improvement overall.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Noozhawk intern Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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