Crowd weighs in on open space use

Strasburg residents help mull options

By Alex Bridges

More than a dozen people played urban planners Thursday to help Strasburg consider uses for open space downtown.

Strasburg’s ongoing work to revitalize its downtown continued as Community Planning Partners and town officials held a design charette that allowed residents, property and business owners to weigh in on how the town could best use the land behind the Brill grocery store.

Longtime resident Maggie Maloney said after the event that she enjoyed the exercise.

“I thought it was marvelous and it really gets people feeling that they have a say and that they have ownership,” Maloney said. “I think that the activity of actually designing … it made us all feel a part of the possibilities of what could happen.”

Strasburg bought the property at 216 E. King St. — a quarter-acre lot that includes the former Brill grocery store building and a taxi stand — from Leonard Brill for $160,000 in March 2009, according to Shenandoah County property records. The lot and buildings were last appraised at almost $213,000. The town also has entertained the idea of acquiring adjacent properties to expand the amount of available open space.

In the charette, participants divided into groups and brainstormed ideas for the open space and how to better use the town’s parking lot off Washington Street. Participants drew on downtown maps and listed their ideas. Town Council members also attended the charette.

Suggestions made by the groups included:

  • Keep the facade of the Brill building but renovate the rest of the structure to include a public restroom facility
  • Raze the Brill building but restore the taxi stand, and possibly expand it to accommodate restrooms
  • Add archways and signs directing people to and from a parking area and open space.
  • Build a retaining wall along Town Run
  • Build a path along Town Run connecting the public parking area to the open space
  • Remove the Hometown Park to provide access to the parking lot from East King Street
  • Remove the two auxiliary buildings in the town parking lot

Craig Wilson, president and chief executive officer for Community Planning Partners, showed some photographs of examples of how small communities have turned open space into areas for events and farmers markets in an effort to revive their downtowns. Urban designer Jim Smither provided some suggestions for the open space that incorporated trees, landscaping and a stage, and, from the parking area a path along Town Run.

The charette also focused on access to the town’s parking area off Washington Street and its connectivity to the open space across East King Street. Strasburg’s Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray pointed out that at one point town officials considered turning the open space into parking. A study showed the town has plenty of parking but accessibility remains a concern.

The town received grant money from the Department of Housing and Community Development to support Strasburg’s downtown improvement activities, including efforts to enhance the physical appearance of district. Strasburg has used grant money to survey the town’s businesses, buildings and resources for proprietors, Murray explained. That work set the town up to receive the next portion of the grant money used to conduct the downtown revitalization survey.

The grant also includes an economic revitalization plan consisting of a market-area study of the businesses and a recruitment strategy. Murray said the work also incorporates the market study conducted by students at James Madison University several years ago.

Murray told the crowd that input at the charette would be collected and made available at the next public input session in the near future. Wilson said the work can eventually lead to the town applying for more grant money in February.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com