Council Considers Updating Redding’s Thirty Year Old Riverfront Plan 

Redding’s riverfront development was last planned decades ago before the Sundial Bridge, Turtle Bay Museum or the Redding Arboretum existed. Funding an update to the 30 year-old plan would be the city’s first step in deciding how to utilize riverfront land after the council voted against declaring the land surplus last month. The city could take advantage of $1 million or more in federal COVID relief money to fund the planning process.

Eight months of community conversations about the future of the Redding riverfront, an area close to the Sundial Bridge that includes the Redding Rodeo grounds and Redding Civic Auditorium, will continue tonight. Initially catalyzed by an offer made last September by developers and local nonprofits to buy and develop the land, public discussions of riverfront land use since then have involved workshops, surveys, and contentious debate. 

The prospect of selling the land to developers was tabled at the last Redding City Council meeting. That’s when Council members voted 4-1 (with Julie Winters casting the dissenting vote) to pursue funding a city-led planning initiative for the riverfront area instead of declaring the land surplus, the first step toward a potential sale. That council vote prompted the consortium who had proposed developing the land, including the McConnell Foundation, Turtle Bay Exploration Park, K2 Development Companies and Populous, to withdraw their letter of intent for the project. 

The recent council decision is likely to leave both more control, and more costs, in the hands of the local community. The first of those potential costs will be discussed by the council tonight as they consider reallocating American Rescue Act Plan(ARPA) Funds, a form of federal COVID relief funding, to pay for an update to what is known as the Redding Riverfront Specific Plan, a 30-year-old legal document that guides how approximately 500 acres at the riverfront may be used. 

The Council recently allocated $18 million in ARPA funds to a combination of projects that include redevelopment of South City Park (currently allocated $4 million) and extended broadband internet access (currently allocated $3 million.) The city’s staff report suggests using $750,000 from broadband funds and $500,000 from South City Park funds to make up the approximately $1.25 million needed to fund the Riverfront Specific Plan update. 

The 1990 Redding Riverfront Specific Plan

Back in the ‘80’s, it seems Redding residents were having many of the same conversations about Redding’s riverfront as now. In 1990, a plan for the greater riverfront area including the Park Marina corridor, became official. That plan followed recommendations made by the Redding Riverfront Planning Commission in 1987. The Committee was made up of a “cross-section of community leaders” who developed basic plans, objectives and goals for the greater 500 acre riverfront area. They agreed on one specific finding at their initial workshop meeting, according to the document, that riverfront land use was not consistent with the city’s needs.

Members of the 1987 Redding Riverfront Committee

Calling publicly-owned parcels at Turtle Bay and those along Park Marina Drive “underutilized,” the committee established an overarching goal for the riverfront area: “Create a riverfront that establishes a lasting and unique identity for the city and adds to the quality of life.” They also established goals for land use, economic development, recreation, natural resources, design, facilities and services. 

Their goal for land use was to balance development with recreation and conservation. They hoped to do so by promoting private development along Park Marina Drive while preserving Turtle Bay for tourism and public access. The area incorporated under the plan already housed the Redding Civic Auditorium, built in 1969, and the “Posse Grounds” where the Redding Rodeo has been holding events since 1948. The McConnell Arboretum and Turtle Bay Museum which sit at either end of the Sundial Bridge, as well as the Bridge itself, were developed later in 2004 and 2005.

A map from Redding’s 1990 Riverfront Specific Plan.

Many Plans, But Some Say Too Little Community Engagement 

The Riverfront Specific Plan, and other specific plans including the recently updated Downtown Specific Plan, are a subset of Redding’s General Plan, which is also currently in the process of being updated. The city’s General Plan, which is a kind of “high level blueprint for community development,” according to City Manager Barry Tippin, was last fully updated more than 20 years ago. 

In an interview with Shasta Scout several months ago, Lily Toy, Redding’s Senior Planning Manager, explained how various legal planning documents interact with each other to serve the city’s planning process. The city’s General Plan, she said, puts a “big broad brush over the city” establishing general open space requirements and land use types. At the same time, she said, a combination of zoning codes and specific plans like the Downtown and Riverfront Specific Plans, develop more detailed criteria for land use including the heights of buildings and how closely buildings can be spaced. A master plan, which the consortium of developers and nonprofits had suggested funding for the riverfront, falls somewhere between the two, Toy said, and would describe how a portion of the city might look, as a means of casting vision for its use. Notably, master plans, unlike general and specific plans, are not legally binding documents. 

In September last year, shortly after a consortium of non-profits and developers made an offer to buy and develop riverfront land, Redding Planning Commissioner Aaron Hatch wrote in a letter to the Council obtained by Shasta Scout through a public records request, that the city should not move forward towards allowing private developers to plan for the use of riverfront land, saying that such planning should stay in the hands of the public.

“If master planning the publicly-owned property in and around the Civic Auditorium has now become a top priority of the City Council,” Hatch wrote in September, “it should be a City staff and citizen-led effort, not facilitated by entities who have a potential financial interest in the property.”

Acknowledging that he felt the riverfront could be “better-leveraged and that amenities in this area ought to be enhanced,” Hatch noted that waiting to consider development until the completion of a recently-begun update to the city’s General Plan, would draw in many more community stakeholders, and build much-needed trust with the public.

Hatch also mentioned the importance of updating the out-dated Redding Riverfront Specific Plan, suggesting that the city should do so either concurrently or immediately after updating the city’s General Plan “expedite the process of riverfront investment by the City while maintaining momentum and public integrity.”

During the last council meeting, Council Member Erin Resner, who appointed Hatch to the Planning Commission, suggested much the same as Hatch did in September. She made a motion that the council consider reallocating one million dollars of federal COVID relief money to  fund a community-engaged update to the Redding Riverfront Specific Plan. In further discussion at that meeting, Resner made it clear that her plan did not eliminate the possibility of a future sale or long-term lease of the land to third parties after city-led planning had occurred.

Updating the Plan Will Require Funds and a New Environmental Review

The offer by developers and nonprofits to buy and develop riverfront land came with funds for master planning that motivated some at the city, and in the public, to pursue accepting that offer. 

That’s because developing a city-led updated Riverfront Specific Plan will cost between $1 million and $1.25 million according to a staff report by Tippin that will be reviewed by the council tonight. Those funds will pay for the city to hire a planning consultant. The process is expected to take approximately two years. According to statements made by Tippin to the Record Searchlight, the planning process will also include new environmental reviews. For some, who’ve been concerned about the environmental impacts of potential development at the riverfront, downtown and Park Marina Corridor, those environmental reviews are key to protecting the health of the river and surrounding riparian habitat for all species. 

The Council will meet tonight at 6 pm at the Redding City Hall.

Annelise Pierce is Shasta Scout’s Editor and Community Reporter covering government accountability, civic engagement, and local religious and political movements. You can contact her at [email protected] Do you have feedback to share? Email us at editor@shastascout.org or join the community conversation at Shasta Scout’s Facebook page. Do you have a correction to this story? Submit it here. Do you love what you’ve read and want to see more? Your small monthly donations make free news for all possible. Donate here.

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