EL CERRITO -- While change appears to be on the way in one area of the city, efforts to preserve a historic site also got a boost last week.

On the same night that it was announced a local landmark has gained national confirmation as a historic site, plans were presented to the City Council for a sweeping change in guidelines governing development and transportation on the city's main roadway.

The landmark is the hillside building that was originally opened in 1935 and operated for 19 years as the Chung Mei Home for Chinese Boys. The ornate building on Elm Street has been declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Tom Panas of the El Cerrito Historical Society announced at the council's Tuesday meeting, making it the city's first recognized landmark.

"A finding of National Register eligibility indicates that a historic resource has particularly noteworthy integrity and significance," Panas said of the area designated as the Chung Mei Historic District. "This is an extraordinary feather in our community's cap."

The bulk of the meeting was devoted to discussion of concurrent plans for reshaping San Pablo Avenue, the business highway that has been the focus of two previous efforts in the past seven years.

The San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan and the Complete Streets Plan for the thoroughfare would put in place guidelines allowing intensified development -- particularly near the city's two BART stations -- while making circulation changes that would emphasize pedestrians, bicycles and buses as a priority over automobiles.

The Specific Plan envisions residential development with ground-floor commercial space and calls for new commercial developments to be a minimum of two stories, with heights of six to eight stories allowed near the Plaza and Del Norte BART stations. Off-street parking requirements would be minimal, to encourage walking, bicycling and public transit.

Curbside amenities would be enhanced with a goal of creating community gathering places.

The Complete Streets Plan would make changes to San Pablo Avenue circulation, with bicycle lanes or shared lanes, crosswalks every 400 feet, sidewalk enhancements and corner "bulbouts" so buses would no longer have to pull out of and back into traffic.

The two plans, both received with enthusiasm by the council, are part of a larger planning effort that includes El Cerrito's Climate Action and Urban Greening initiatives and enhancements to the Ohlone Greenway.

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