Before getting down to the nuts and bolts of the next fiscal year budget, balanced in theory by staff by February 5; and health care options for employees (both things with lots of numbers that I will refer you to our publisher’s video of the February 5 work session for), the Front Royal Town Council reviewed the status of several things in the works over a number of months dating back to last year.
· the status of a wastewater pumping station to facilitate the first commercial re-development at the former Avtex Superfund site;
· movement toward a property maintenance code without specific protections for renters;
· what appears to be an extremely unpopular idea – turning East Main Street into a one-way street through the historic downtown business district.
Where to start?
One Way – NO Way
As for the one-way East Main Street idea, Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp offered poll results indicating an overwhelming thumbs down from BOTH East Main Street property/business owners and town citizens who regularly visit the downtown business district. There were 311 total responses to the survey, most received digitally online.
Of “regular visitors” – more than 2 visits downtown per week – 72.5% of town citizens responding opposed the idea; with 63.5% of downtown property owners joining in that opposition. Only 25.4% of downtown property owners supported the change. The property owner numbers closely mirrored the overall response. Of all respondents, 65.8% were against, 24.4% for, with 9.7% neutral to the idea.
The highest rate of support came from “non-citizens” though the staff summary offered no further stats on that group other than it encompassed a total of only 16 responses.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt, who also served as Town Public Works Director for years, recounted his memory of East Main Street’s past incarnations as a one-way street, ending in 1985. Tewalt noted that prior to 1985 when the downtown business district’s main thoroughfare was last returned to a two-way street, at various times it had been one-way running both east and west. Tewalt re-expressed his ongoing reservations about the idea, adding that 100% of the citizen calls he has gotten have been against the idea.
Gary Gillispie said he felt the change would push additional traffic flow onto adjoining residential neighborhood streets. Mayor Hollis Tharpe noted that was also a concern of the absent John Connolly, whom the mayor noted was home dealing with four sick children.
At the outset of his presentation on the matter, Planning Director Camp noted that at its current width of 30-feet, East Main Street is 2-feet, 1-inch under VDOT’s minimum standard for pull-in, angular parking. Adding street parking spaces appears to have been a major motivation for some downtown business owners who brought the idea of the change forward, according to Councilman William Sealock.
Camp said that while VDOT would not prohibit the Town from enacting angular parking due to the street width, doing so below the state transportation agency’s minimum standards could jeopardize future VDOT funding streams for other East Main Street improvements.
A majority council consensus appeared to be to abandon the idea in the face of the poll results and other questions raised by staff like the potential of lost state revenue streams for future downtown street improvements. However, Sealock noted that with $700,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding coming the Town’s way for improvements to the downtown, looking at ways some of that money could be spent to improve downtown parking should continue to be on the table now.
Tewalt responded he had no issue with keeping the one-way option “in the loop” as part of that discussion; though with overwhelming public, as well as significant downtown merchant opposition, he doubted it should be a first option in solving downtown parking issues.