By Alex Bridges
"Keep it green," say several Front Royal leaders of a planned park-and-ride lot near the Shenandoah River South Fork bridge.
At a work session Monday, Town Council discussed the proposed commuter lot, which the Virginia Department of Transportation has planned for the remaining portion of land acquired for the widening of the South Fork bridge. VDOT officials who were at the meeting said the other nearby commuter lots are full or over capacity and such a parking area as proposed would benefit town commuting residents.
The town planning commission also is scheduled to discuss the commuter lot at its meeting today.
Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp weighed in on the proposed lot and made suggestions and comments in a memo distributed to council and VDOT. But as Camp states, VDOT's designs do not meet town requirements, such as the size and number of trees and internal landscaping, parking lot aisle widths.
Additional impervious surface can create more storm water runoff, Camp states. He also notes that such a lot would increase traffic congestion at 18th Street and North Shenandoah Avenue.
Town Manager Steven E. Burke told council VDOT has delayed advertising for firms to bid on the project until July 2013, which would give Front Royal officials and the agency time to discuss the issue.
Councilman Bret W. Hrbek said he does not want a park-and-ride on land that's commercially viable.
"We put that park and ride outside, not inside town limits where a business could put a building there and bring revenue and jobs to the town and, frankly, in a gorgeous location," he said.
Councilman N. Shae Parker expressed concerns about traffic attempting to turn left from 18th Street to travel south on North Shenandoah Avenue - a feat he calls almost impossible at the present time. Parker also questioned whether a park-and-ride lot is needed at the South Fork end of a three-bridge complex when such a parking area lies at Crooked Run.
"My other question is, what's wrong with green space?" Parker asked. "Why do we have to pave it?"
Councilman Hollis L. Tharpe concurred with Hrbek and noted the town has tried to beautify the entrance at South Fork bridge to "welcome people." Tharpe said he opposes any park-and-ride lots in town, given their appearance.
Councilman Eugene R. Tewalt said that while the commuter lot remains an issue, he felt more concerned about the retention pond planned for the site and located in front of businesses. Screening could hide vehicles in a commuter lot better, but a retention pond in the location as proposed would appear as an eyesore, according to Tewalt.
VDOT representatives told council the remaining land on the property, given its close proximity to the bridge, is "not viable" for use other than as a commuter lot.
Tharpe asked that if the property is "not viable for anything, why not just give it to the town and let us take care of it?"
He added, "All this pavement and all these extra automobiles into an area that, if you live on 18th Street, you're going to be hating life trying to get out to go to the bridge to get to the park-and-ride."
VDOT Assistant Residency Administrator Edwin V. "Ed" Carter said they would be "inclined to hang on to it for the easement and the drainage for the pond."
Camp suggests VDOT expand the commuter lot to the north of town, redesign the retention pond, design part of the space for public parking, or sell the remainder of the property to the Economic Development Authority for possible commercial development.
Matt Dana, VDOT Staunton District location and design manager, explained a commuter lot does not attract the same vehicle traffic as businesses. Commuters park in the lots earlier in the mornings and return to retrieve their vehicles later in the day, usually at times when they avoid other traffic.
Mayor Timothy W. Darr refuted that assertion.
"Every evening I try to get out of the park-and-ride out there now and it's like Frogger trying to get back into town," Darr said.
An impromptu survey conducted of users of the existing commuter lots show 10-50 percent of the drivers come from Front Royal, according to Carter.
"We thought this would be an enhancement for the people in Front Royal," Carter said, adding that building a commuter lot on land owned by VDOT costs less than a standalone site.
VDOT determined the traffic at the intersection would not require the installation of traffic signals, Carter said.
The plans early on included the commuter lot but its inclusion only recently came to light and drew council concerns.
"It has been in the plans, but when you have such a radical bridge design that was brought to us everyone focused on that," Parker said. "We didn't focus on a park-and-ride at the other end of town. You didn't advertise a park-and-ride. You advertised a bridge."
Carter noted that VDOT included the commuter lot when it advertised the public information meetings.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org