Planning experts from around the country visit Kamas for weekend-long Main Street study
Planning experts from around the country descended on Kamas this weekend to hold a lightning speed design conference focused on revitalizing the East Side city’s Main Street.
A Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team from the American Institute of Architects came to town Thursday, held a community visioning session and dinner Friday, worked all weekend and presented a 75-page report to the community Monday. The work was done pro bono and the city received a state grant to cover other costs like airfare and lodging.
The report includes recommendations about ways to foster smart growth in the city, encourage downtown businesses and increase residential density where residents want it and prevent it where they don’t.
Mayor Matt McCormick said he was glad to have the architects in town and that the process gave Kamas some useful recommendations and started a community dialogue.
“I think a community group is a really good idea to get volunteers involved and get people working together for community-wide improvement,” McCormick said. “I don’t think that City Council and staff can do it all.”
Todd Scott, a Seattle-based architect and the team leader, said he was taken with Kamas’ potential and that it reminded him of where he grew up in Oklahoma.
“It’s a cool town — it’s so open and clearly it’s the center of the valley,” Scott said. “Everybody seems to be willing to work together to hopefully accomplish what we’re recommending.”
The short duration of the exercise means that the plan didn’t get down to specifics like language the city could use in ordinances. The plan did, however, identify several ways the city could pursue the goals the planners heard during the visioning session, which about 150 people attended, according to Kaitlin Eskelson, a community development specialist who contracts with the city. She said a survey sent out before the event received over 200 responses, as well.
Some of the recommendations in the plan include working with the Utah Department of Transportation to change the “streetscape” of Main Street, adding bumpouts, crosswalks and lighting and widening sidewalks to create a more walkable downtown and encourage people to linger.
The report also recommends working with UDOT to lower the speed limit to 30 mph and adopt angled parking rather than parallel parking, which would accommodate more cars and serve as a traffic-calming measure when cars slow to pull in or allow others to pull out of parking spots.
McCormick said the city could begin working with UDOT soon to pursue grants for things like sidewalk repair and crosswalks.
One of the questions the planners asked community members is what sort of community project they would undertake if they had 1,000 volunteers to help them. One of the most common responses was creating a trail system from Kamas to Peoa to Woodland.
Other uses for a community group of volunteers would be to help beautify Main Street, including planting trees and flowers, picking up trash, installing new signage and upgrading facades like the old movie theater, the report notes.
The planners looked at the city’s zoning requirements and advocated tools to cluster density in the downtown core in order to preserve open space and prevent sprawl elsewhere.
The city could incentivize developments it wants to attract — like buildings with businesses on the ground floor and residences above — by reducing approval hurdles and disambiguating language in the development code to spell out exactly what the community wants to see.
The proposal recommends adjusting the entry corridor zoning that lines parts of S.R. 248 to prevent it from becoming “strip commercial, which is neither aesthetically pleasing or high quality.”
To incentivize business, the report recommends working with county and state small-business groups and possibly creating a coworking space in the library that could move to an underused building on Main Street.
Jeff Jones, Summit County’s economic development and housing director, met with the steering committee on Friday and said he had experience with the design assistance team program from his time as a neighborhood planner in Boise.
When he was still new on the job, he stumbled upon the work the group had done for Boise years earlier and that the city’s redevelopment agency went on to use that information as the backbone of later downtown redevelopment efforts.
Jones said the resource offered by the design team brings a level of professionalism that’s often hard for small towns to access and the exercise itself can bring the community together.
Eskelson said she contracts with the city essentially as a part-time grantwriter, and had been working in that capacity for about a month when she applied for the program, which she valued at about $100,000. The state kicked in another $40,000 to pay for logistical costs like airfare, lodging, food and the community meetings.
She said she was inspired to apply for the program after visiting Helper and seeing the complete renovation that city accomplished in three years. She added that the Helper community comes out in droves to volunteer and has done a lot of labor for beautification projects.
“They’ve redone their entire Main Street,” Eskelson said. “This is how you start.”
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