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Thursday, 03 May 2012 01:11

South Main plan dredges up old parking debate

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The Waynesville Board of Aldermen approved a revitalization plan for South Main Street last week despite a dispute over one aspect of the proposed design scheme.

The town hired Rodney Porter, a consultant with LaQuatra Bonci in Asheville, last year to study South Main Street. The area has grown increasingly run-down and unattractive. Town leaders hoped new street scheme would promote more economic development along that stretch of road, prompting a year-long public process to develop a new vision for the corridor.

Porter’s report assessing South Main peppered with less-than-flattering language describing South Main: deteriorated condition; not economically healthy; dilapidated structures; no distinct image; scrubby patches of overgrown and unattractive weeds; seldom pedestrian traffic.

Porter addressed the board again last week to show-off his plan to make South Main Street more attractive to developers. His plan includes bike lanes, a continuous sidewalk, a roundabout where Main and Riverbend streets and Ninevah Road intersect, and a four-lane road from Allens Creek Road to Hyatt Creek Road.

The plan received overall positive feedback from the public, but two aldermen and the mayor expressed apprehension about one aspect that seemed to open an old can of worms. Rearing its head again was the ongoing debate over parking lots — namely should parking lots go in front of buildings or be scooted to the side and rear?

Porter felt strongly that parking lots should be to the side and rear, allowing building facades to define the street’s character rather than asphalt and parked cars.

The town of Waynesville had once been in Porter’s camp. Its development standards once required parking lots to sit to the side or rear of buildings, and for facades to flank the street front.

But in response to complaints from developers, the town board recanted and began allowing small, limited parking areas in front of buildings in certain commercial districts, including South Main Street.

In contrast, the consultant wanted the town to go back to its old requirement of storefronts and not parking lots abutting the street — creating a quandary for some of the aldermen.

“Is there a way of modifying this report?” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “I don’t want to have my name on a document that is contrary to another document that I signed less than a year ago.”

Porter stood his ground and fought for the plan to stay as is.

Placing parking lots to the side or back of buildings gives South Main a distinct identity and makes it pedestrian friendly, Porter said. What is the point of creating a plan otherwise, he asked.

“If we pull those buildings back (farther off the street), I really don’t know what we are doing more than putting trees in the sidewalk,” Porter said. “That really sort of strays away from the ‘complete streets’ movement that we have.”

The so-called “complete streets” concept focuses on making a street user friendly for everyone — motorists, cyclists and pedestrians — rather than purely auto-centric.

“It’s not in keeping with complete streets, and you are separating the pedestrian atmosphere with another row of parking,” Porter said. “You would not have the opportunity for any significant street frontage, and depending on how the traffic is laid out, you would quite possibly end up with more curb cuts.”

Curb cuts increase the likelihood of an accident.

Aldermen Gary Caldwell and Julia Freeman sided with Brown, saying they felt uncomfortable approving a plan that runs counter to current land development standards.

“To contradict what we currently have as a land development standard, it’s troublesome to me,” Freeman said.

Paul Black, director of French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, voiced his approval of the plan and its commitment to complete streets concept. A parking lot would split the sidewalk and storefronts making it more hazardous for pedestrians, Black said.

“It would be very difficult to have a sidewalk café if the waiter’s got to walk across the parking lot,” Black said. “I don’t know if there is a way to reconcile your development code with the plan.”

Alderman Wells Greeley did not openly express an opinion about the plan, while Alderman LeRoy Roberson endorsed the plan as laid out by the consultant.

After more than an hour of comments and discussion, new Town Manager Marcy Onieal found the plan’s golden ticket to passage — a sentence on page 19 of the report that says all proposed development must meet the town’s land development standards. That means that the town’s ordinances would override any contradictory language proposed in the plan.

The board ultimately passed the South Main Street master plan as is.

“I can live with it,” Brown said.

None of the disagreements will matter, however, once the N.C. Department of Transportation gets its hands on the project. The plan is merely a guideline for DOT, detailing what Waynesville would like to see happen to South Main. But, it is by no means set in stone. DOT could decide to scrap the town’s plan altogether or only incorporate parts of the layout when it revamps the street.

“We’re going to have a big comedown with reality when DOT gets ahold of this and starts designing the road,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “We are going to get a definite reality check as the program proceeds forward. But, I think at this point I don’t see any problem personally with having sort of an idealized plan out there.”

See for yourself

Check out the South Main Street revitalization plan for yourself at www.townofwaynesville.org.


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