By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Efforts to revive downtown Strasburg moved forward this week.
Town Council passed an ordinance creating the district which covers King Street from Capon Street to the railroad tracks. The district and the incentives for businesses take effect Oct. 1. Council voted 6-1 in favor of the ordinance after holding a public hearing on the matter. Councilman John M. Hall Jr. voted against the ordinance. Councilman Richard A. Redmon did not attend the meeting.
Several people spoke in favor of creating the district. Jamie Book told council the town would benefit from a district that attracts such businesses which could create jobs and give youth more options. Council had heard support of the district at previous work sessions and at meetings of the ordinance committee.
Marcy McCann runs Shenandoah Valley Art Works presented by LtdPrints.com, 234 W. King St., and began the effort to create an arts and cultural district more than a year ago. McCann on Wednesday lauded council's decision to create the district, noting as she has before that downtown serves as home to many artists, each of whom owns a business.
The district also covers the area of South Holliday Street to Hotel Strasburg. Council may revisit the district and add more area in the future. But as some supporters have noted, the designation of the district also comes with benefits and incentives for prospective business owners to set up and stay downtown. A property that qualifies as either arts or tourism can receive a discount on the business license fees normally paid to the town for the first five years. Additionally, the business receives a break on town utility costs, either 35 or 50 percent, depending on the amount of water used in a billing period. Failing to pay a water bill could result in losing the privilege to receive the discount for the remainder of the fiscal year, officials said.
McCann's neighbor, Rob Hudson, operates Torpedo Rob's Tattoo. Hudson also has spoken in favor of creating the arts district. As a tenant, Hudson said Wednesday he won't see a benefit from the utility bill reduction. But the business license fee discount will help, Hudson said. The proprietor moved his business from Winchester and changed the name. About eight months ago he moved into a larger space in the same building where he and the landlord continue to make improvements.
"Believe it or not it was a blessing moving [to Strasburg]," Hudson said.
Council, after years of debate, discussion and meetings, voted 5-2 to approve designs for the Downtown Streetscape Enhancement Project. The latest designs call for improved sidewalks and other amenities along King Street from the area of the Handy Mart past Acton Place. Council made changes to the design as they discussed the project at numerous work sessions and meetings during the course of the past several years. Councilmen Robert B. Baker and Hall voted against the design, telling members they had heard only a few comments in support of the streetscape project as designed. Baker said he supported some aspects of the design but opposed the construction of traffic-calming bumpouts at intersection because he feared they would make it difficult for large vehicles to turn. Baker said bumpouts may also make it difficult for snow-removal efforts.
The first phase involves work on West King Street between Fort and Holliday streets. Improvements also extend to Capon Street and across from Handy Mart.
The new designs no longer include traffic islands at King and Massanutten Street and in front of the Handy Mart as previously proposed. Instead council asked the plans include design features along the sides of the street and the sidewalk. Likewise the plans call for the construction of a brick sign at the corner of the Handy Mart welcoming motorists into Strasburg. Officials did recommend removal of the bump-out Acton Place after trial runs showed the feature may cause issues for large vehicles.
Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. sought to dispell residents' concerns about the money slated for the project. Orndorff explained the town received the grant funding for the project years ago and must act on the streetscape project or risk having to repay the money already spent on the initiative.