Council OKs design firm for downtown work

STRASBURG – Town Council took another step Tuesday toward an effort to make major changes downtown.

Council voted at its regular meeting to appoint Land Planning and Design Associates as the landscape architect for work under the town’s $700,000 community development block grant.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development awarded the town $700,000 from the community development block grant program that Strasburg plans to use for downtown revitalization projects. The effort includes the redesign of the public parking lot off Washington Street and the creation of an open space behind the former Brill’s grocery store and taxi stand. The town also is considering the renovation of the Brill building and taxi stand or the demolition of the latter or both structures. The firm also will handle the facade improvement part of the grant.

With a firm hired, the Downtown Revitalization Facade Advisory Board can begin its work with the company to use the grant money within the two-year project window.

Town Manager Ryan Spitzer said Wednesday that the previous work on the grant-funded project by Community Planning Partners dealt more with concepts. The firm performed the work under a planning grant the town received that served as precursor to the larger award. The grant budget outlines the specific fees that Strasburg will pay the firm for its services, Spitzer said. Work on this revitalization effort will be coordinated with the construction of the Downtown Streetscape project, Spitzer noted.

Town staff interviewed three firms that responded to a request for architectural and landscaping qualifications for the grant project – Land Planning and Design Associates, Harvey Design Land Architects and Hill Studio. All firms participated in community development block grant programs, according to information from the town. Staff recommended Land Planning and Design Associates as the best fit for the town in terms of the facade program design services.

The firm selected by council noted in its submission that it specializes in downtown revitalization, trails, town parks and related amenities. The firm’s approach to economic development focuses on creating a destination and enticing visitors to stay longer so they use other services and amenities.

The firm will coordinate public participation with the town and Community Planning Partners. The company will create a webpage that includes project information and meeting announcements. The firm will hold meetings with stakeholders at the beginning of the project and for the public at different points during the process.

The company states in its submission that it should take less than 12 months from design to awarding a bid for the project.

The firm also suggested that the town consider expanding the event space to the adjacent properties to create more area and reduce conflicts with neighbors; and to allow street access to the park for loading. They also suggest that the town consider direct access to the park from King Street that would eliminate the need for a pedestrian bridge.

The trail connector and access to the event park could affect the project budget. The firm suggests the town use its work force on some parts of the project to cut cost.

Council also voted to adopt a resolution establishing the block grant facade guidelines, direct the town manager to sign the pertinent documents and to appropriate the $700,000 in state funds for the project. The pre-contract negotiation period ends Feb. 20 and the town must sign the documents during that time. The documents approved include the bylaws and the members of the Facade Advisory Board for the Downtown Revitalization project as well as the facade improvement program design.

Also at the meeting, council:
• Appointed Daniel Lefkowitz to the Board of Zoning Appeals
• Voted to abate or write off $6,226 in unpaid, personal property taxes from 2010, $141 in real estate taxes from 1995 and $8,627 in utility bills. The personal property tax write-offs represent approximately 1 percent of the $623,414 billed in 2010; the town has collected 99 percent of the levies billed. The town billed $875,612 in real estate taxes. The utility bill write-offs represent 0.23 percent of the $3.74 million billed in 2010.
• Adopted a revised purchasing policy that follows the state except for when the town needs to conduct competitive bidding or negotiations for large purchases
• Authorized the town manager to send a letter to U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte indicating council’s appreciation for his support of an effort to keep double tractor-trailers off roads in states where now prohibited

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or