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Mayor sees hurdles to riverfront plan

Charleston residents recently have indicated that development of the city's riverfront is their top priority, but Mayor Danny Jones believes developing the property would be difficult.

Four-lane Kanawha Boulevard runs along the north bank of the river.

To develop that side of the river, the road would have to be reduced to two lanes, he said, and that is not likely to happen.

"There are a lot of big players in Charleston that are against it," Jones said. "They'd rather have four lanes than development."

Various proposals ranging from development of the riverfront to creation of more bike paths in the city were unveiled last week during an open house held to discuss the city's comprehensive and downtown revitalization plans -- roadmaps for the city in the years to come. The plans also outline how the city can achieve its goals.

Residents were encouraged to vote for a project they considered to be a top priority during an open house at the Culture Center Sept. 18.

A total of 63 votes were cast for redevelopment of mixed-use facilities along the Kanawha River, according to figures provided by the city Planning Department.

"People my age and older don't want to develop the riverfront," Jones said. "They'd rather zip and zoom through town."

City Manager David Molgaard also believes it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to develop the north bank of the Kanawha River through the downtown area. However, he is not surprised that so many people chose riverfront development as a top priority.

"A lot of people recognize the potential of the riverfront," he said.

Although Molgaard believes there is little opportunity to develop along the riverbank, the other side of the road could be developed in the future.

"The idea of mixed-use development on the north side of Kanawha Boulevard is very interesting," he said.

Molgaard declined to be specific about the types of development he would like to see there.

"I'll wait to see the results of the planning process," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see what is fleshed out during this process."

The project that received the second-highest number of votes during the open house was to adopt reuse strategies for vacant and unused property throughout the city.

Jones said as of now he is pushing for the redevelopment of one specific piece of vacant property -- the site of the former Holley Hotel on Quarrier Street beside the Quarrier Diner.

"We're going to develop that property," Jones said. "We already own that property, and we're going to make something work."

Jones pointed to an out-of-the-box plan drafted by Molgaard.

It calls for construction of a mixed-use building with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments on several upper floors. 

The plan is contingent upon employers subsidizing rent for their employees. This would help hold down rent payments for the employees and encourage them to move into downtown.

"David has a really good plan and I'm hoping it works," Jones said.

Adopting a reuse strategy for vacant buildings and properties received 61 votes during the open house. 

The third highest priority with 49 votes is establishing a network of trails and routes to make it easy for people to bike throughout the city.

"I see this as tying in to what's going on along the (Kanawha) Boulevard," he said.

A plan to build a two-lane bike trail along the riverside of Kanawha Boulevard from Magic Island to Patrick Street was presented during the open house.

The plan is to eliminate the 4-foot grass median between the lanes and make them narrower. This would open up enough space to create a 10-foot bike lane.

The current path along Kanawha Boulevard would be restricted to pedestrians, according to the plan.

About $2.2 million that would have been utilized to refurbish the train trestle across Kanawha Boulevard on the city's West Side instead would be used for this project.

However, building other bike paths around the city and through neighborhoods would be "tough," Jones said.

"It would be hard to navigate," he said.

The consultants helping to draft both the plans will now take the recommendations presented at the open house and begin to write the actual document, said Dan Vriendt, director of the city Planning Department.

The consultants, MKSK and LSL Planning, will come back to the city some time this winter to present their draft.

"The plan will look more like a finished product at that time," Vriendt said.

He anticipates another open house to unveil the draft plan sometime in February.             

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


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