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Residents get a voice on proposals for city at forum

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston residents may weigh in this week on the city's priorities for the future, including a proposed apartment building aimed at young workers and options to make Kanawha Boulevard easier to travel by bike or on foot.

Those issues will be in the spotlight at an Imagine Charleston open house from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the state Culture Center's Great Hall.

Imagine Charleston is the group working on comprehensive and downtown revitalization plans. The plans are roadmaps illustrating where the city is going and how to get there.

The open house is one of the most important meetings during the comprehensive plan because it is when residents get to offer their opinions on what projects are the most important.

"This open house is all about the consultants listening to the community's reaction to what they've done already," said Lori Brannon, Charleston neighborhood planner. "They want to make sure they're on the right track."

Comment cards will be available, and people can also speak directly to the consultants who are working to draft the plan.

"Everything they've done to this point has been research," said Geoff Plagemann, Charleston neighborhood planner. "Now the consultants will be proposing their ideas to the public."

Those who attend will also be asked to vote on what projects they believe are the highest priority for the city. They can do this by placing tickets in boxes at stations used to discuss specific suggestions in the plans.

The number of tickets in the box at the end of the event indicates its priority level.

"And if someone thinks one particular project is the most important project in the plan, they can put all 10 of their tickets in that box," Brannon said.

City leaders have recently unveiled a plan to build an apartment building on the site of the old Holley Hotel on Quarrier Street next to the diner. The building, if constructed, would include apartments on the upper floors with commercial space below.

The plan hinges on whether employers in the city would be willing to subsidize rent for their employees in order to keep the cost of living in the apartment complex affordable for professionals.

"This project is consistent with the comprehensive and downtown plans," Brannon said.

But, residents are now being invited to offer their two cents on projects like this and others.

Making Kanawha Boulevard more bike and pedestrian friendly will also be a topic at the open house, Brannon said. The consultants drafting the plan will present a proposal that attempts to "make everyone happy," she said.

The proposal will concentrate on the width of the traffic lanes and how to create more room for the bike and walking path on the river side of the boulevard while keeping all four lanes open, Brannon said. 

Another suggestion that will be made at the open house deals with the "gateways" into the city, she said, such as the Patrick Street Bridge, which crosses over into the West Side.

The consulting firm, MKSK, is exploring ways to make that gateway more appealing and inviting, Plagemann said.

For example, one of the suggestions would be to scale back the parking lot at the shopping center on Patrick Street near Kanawha Boulevard and create more green space, he said.

"Coming off the Patrick Street Bridge, you never see that parking lot completely full," Brannon said. "Why do we need all that pavement?"

Creating green space and a park-like atmosphere near the shopping center not only makes the city gateway more inviting, but it also helps manage storm water runoff, Plagemann said.

This is not a new concept, said Craig Gossman, a principal with MKSK.

Shopping centers in other cities around the country often incorporate large amounts of green space to make the lots more appealing, he said. 

He quickly pointed out that the plan will not suggest that the entire parking lot be turned into green space, but that a portion of the pavement could be converted.

"By its very nature, retail is something that demands a significant amount of parking," Gossman said.

But the parking spaces do not have to push right up to Patrick Street, Gossman said. The shopping center is also underserved in terms of restaurants. 

"We're looking at creating a better place where you can shop," Gossman said.

Another city gateway is the Elk City Historic District on the West Side that is made of up the area along Washington Street West from Pennsylvania Avenue to near Ohio Avenue, Plagemann said.

"We're really not looking at making that area greener, it's about making the buildings there look better," he said.

Connecting downtown with other areas such as the East End via bike paths will be another topic discussed at the open house.

A proposed bike path along Virginia Street East to Greenbrier Street and then back up Quarrier Street into downtown is scheduled to come up, Brannon said.

Information about the comprehensive plan can be obtained at the Imagine Charleston website at www.imaginecharleston.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/imaginecharleston.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.

 


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