Debate over ground-floor apartments in Strasburg heads toward final vote

STRASBURG — The Town Council is set to decide whether it will allow a developer to build ground-floor apartments on several properties in Strasburg’s downtown district.

During a work session on Monday, council members moved forward a plan by Doug Boyd to build small efficiency apartments in the back of several properties Boyd owns on King Street. The proposal is now set for a vote at the council’s Feb. 13 meeting.

But Monday’s work session was not without tension.

During the meeting, councilman Seth Newman said that accepting Boyd’s special use permit would harm the commercial feel of Strasburg’s downtown.

“This to me looks like the only commercial use we’re ever going to see out of [Boyd’s buildings] is going to be a motel,” Newman said.

Boyd argued, on the other hand, that turning the back of his buildings into apartments was the only way they could be economically viable. He noted that the buildings are in poor condition and will need a lot of renovation.

“Trying to find a way to put these buildings to use, this was the best economic way I could consider to keep these buildings and not tear them down,” Boyd said.

Monday’s discussion was largely a re-hashing of debates the Town Council held late last year about whether or not developers should be able to sell ground-floor apartments in the downtown district.

Council members were divided at the time about whether allowing for first-floor apartments downtown would be beneficial for the town. Some council members argued that business owners need to be able to rent properties in their first floors in order to make money, while other council members argued that doing so would make it difficult for the town to preserve its commercial district.

That discussion ended in a 4-3 vote, with council deciding to allow developers to apply to the town for a permit that will allow them to lease first-floor apartments.

At the time, Newman expressed concern that approving the special use permits would turn Strasburg’s downtown district into a residential area, rather than a commercial space.

“There’s just all kinds of room for misuse,” Newman said in November.

He voted against the special use permit.

But Boyd said that he could not make money simply leasing his properties as commercial space, saying that it is hard to find buyers for commercial space in downtown Strasburg.

If he didn’t receive approval from the town to build first-floor apartments, Boyd said, “I would have to tear these buildings down.”

That echoes the sentiments from supporters of the provision to allow for permits for ground-floor apartments.  In November, Michelle Bixler, the town’s economic development and marketing manager, said that properties with only commercial in the first floor are not economically viable for business owners.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that Strasburg Town Council will vote on the proposal on Feb. 13.

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