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Q&A with Streetscape Committee chairman

By Staff | Jan 23, 2009

Shepherdstown’s Hank Willard has been involved with the Streetscape Project since July 2004, when he was asked to chair the Town Council’s Public Works Committee. Willard is now the chairman of the Streetscape Committee. He responded to questions from the Chronicle about the conception of the work and what is expected in the future.

How did the project

take shape in 2004?

Repairs and improvements to the sidewalks and streets had been set as an objective by then but no specific program had yet been outlined.

View Engineering had already been engaged to survey the entire town, inventory all of the existing conditions and provide recommendations for steps that could be undertaken. Their effort, which included the input from a series of public meetings, identified the worst conditions and provided guidance in setting priorities for what might be done. As a result of this a distinct “Streetscape Project” – as it has come to be called – emerged with ideas about how it could be undertaken in phases that responded in a logical sequence to the problems that had been identified and the urgency attached to them. The Public Works Committee determined that a sub-committee of town volunteers reporting to the Town Council would be the best way to gather public input and organize goals for the project.

The Streetscape Committee has included Pam Berry, Mark Smith, Neal Martineau, Pete Spalding, Sandra Osborne, Lance Dom and Nancy Craun who have remained with this task through the countless meetings that were required by several years of planning and design work. I think they have represented all points of view in a very careful and considerate way.

Are you happy with the progress and product so far?

The project started slowly because the contractor was not able to apply a full crew at the outset and by early December we had fallen several weeks behind schedule. John Brady, the project manager working on the Town’s behalf, has been monitoring this closely and doing a great job of closing the gap with the original schedule. At this point I don’t see any reason why the project should not meet its scheduled completion date which is the middle of June.

We are all now looking at the first evidence of the “product” at its most awkward stage, but from what I see, the completed sections conform well to the plans and drawings. I see a few things that I feel could be adjusted. The Committee is meeting next week with designer Kimley-Horn and the project manager to review the progress to date at which time we can get into every level of detail and make any adjustments that seem wise. I encourage anyone that has an interest or stake in the project to attend that meeting. Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Some people have written in about the planters and have asked why they have to jut out into the street so much. Will this affect truck traffic?

The use of planters – or “curb extensions” – as an element of the project was rejected emphatically by everyone on the committee when the concept was originally proposed to us by each of the design firms we’ve worked with. Our point of view began to shift when we came to understand the benefits that this particular design element contributes to the project:

1) They provide a “traffic calming” effect -delivering a visual cue to motorists that they are entering a different section of roadway and highlighting areas of pedestrian activity.

2) By physically reducing the width of the street at the point of the crosswalks, negotiating automobile traffic will become less intimidating for pedestrians. The curb extensions also provide extra surface area within the pedestrian right of way to build the ADA compliant ramps that are required. Everyone needs to remember that because the source of funds for the project largely originated with Federal money there are some strings attached and we are required to observe the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the way that we build these improvements. We are allowed a little leeway in the strict application of these rules because the project is within an historic district.

3) The curb extensions provide the means to better control storm water run-off.

4) They provide the spaces to re-establish large trees. The turning radius required by trucks at the main intersections was carefully studied and reviewed by the West Virginia Department of Highways. We have been assured by the engineers that the plans adequately provide for easy truck movements.

What are the primary objectives of this project, and are they being achieved so far?

The main objective is to repair the sidewalks. Some sections had become dangerous. In the process of reaching that goal, we realized through the work of some of the consultants that were advising us that the project had an even larger potential. In this respect I feel the success of the project – while it will be apparent immediately – will really become more evident over time.

Our advisors – especially John Milner & Associates of Charlottesville, Va. – asked us to look at the historic streetscape of the town, evident through their research of old photographs dating to the mid 19th Century.

It quickly became one of the main ambitions of the committee to find ways to at least partially restore the historic streetscape of the town through its “treescape.” The curb extensions provided the mechanism to do this – it is within the locations provided by these “planters” that we are creating the places to re-introduce large canopy trees that once lined German Street from end to end.

Kimley-Horn presented us with several design concepts – some that worked radically in favor of re-establishing trees as the dominant element of the streetscape. We chose the most conservative of the concepts that were presented to us and adapted that even further to balance these plans with the practical reality of the need for parking space. So, at these 12 locations surrounding the main intersections we plan to plant trees that will, over time, mature to be substantial trees that will arch over the entire street.

The existing sidewalk right-of-way is too narrow to accommodate trees that, when they approach maturity, can have a trunk diameter of 2-3 feet. This will have a transforming visual impact on the center of Shepherdstown and I believe will be the most appreciated outcome of this project by residents and visitors for years to come. All of the fifty or so new trees that will be planted (35 different varieties) will be installed in carefully designed tree boxes that will encourage their growth.

When do you expect trees to be planted?

The trees will be planted this spring, as soon as conditions are favorable.

What are the plans for maintenance once the project is complete?

The trees and other landscape elements will need immediate and continuous maintenance. They will have to be watered very regularly for at least the first year and they need to be looked after by an arborist. The Town was required to submit a maintenance plan as part of the grant application. I expect that the Shepherdstown Tree Commission will take a big role in sustaining the trees.

The Town may have to rent or purchase equipment so that watering is done on a regular schedule since an irrigation system was not part of the plan.

After the first stage is complete this summer, what are the plans for the future?

The next phase of this work has been envisioned to extend on King Street from Queens Alley to High Street but there are no firm plans at all for that phase.

Kimley-Horn prepared some very preliminary concept sketches to enable us to apply for a Transportation Enhancement Grant. We have not been successful yet in securing a grant. Perhaps we will try again in 2009. We ought to examine, at the same time, whether there are other areas of town that should be given a higher priority.

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Committee Meeting

Jan. 26

7 p.m.

Town Hall