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Streetscape: Town reacts

By Staff | Jun 19, 2009

Tourists walk along German Street. Photo by Michael Theis

Shepherdstown has put a lot of time and effort into its new brick-lain, bench-speckled, and tree-lined streetscape.

According to the Corporation of Shepherdstown page on , the streetscape was “in response to widely observed hazards present in the deteriorated sidewalks throughout the town as well as other elements of the public infrastructure, such as storm water drains, that have been identified as needing improvement.”

Since Shepherdstown is known for being quaint, a certain appearance must be kept in order to preserve the character of the town. The streetscape had to be carefully designed in order to meet that requirement, as well as to be functional. Some of the other requirements set by the Corporation of Shepherdstown, on the above cited website, are related to quaint aesthetics, such as to “or enhance existing environmental assets that interact with the streetscape, such as the Town Run and existing mature trees”. Others are more practical, some those being to improve “drainage on both sidewalks and streets” and incorporate “new amenities into the streetscape, such as plazas, green areas, sitting areas.”

People have debated about where the money for the streetscape improvement should have come from, and why assorted allocations of town money were or were not contributed to the project. “As a longtime resident, I like the streetscape,” said Shepherd University student David Young. “But I think they should have used the money from meter revenue and fines. Those fines can cost about $40. I heard they made around $40,000 in six months from fines. Those should go to the town instead of just the police station.”

Whether the streetscape should have been implemented right away was another argument. Most people interviewed did not remark on that, but a few people thought they should have waited. John Michael, a Shipley Elementary schoolteacher and Shepherdstown resident for 14 years, believes that the plumbing should have been fixed before the project was implemented at all. “I think that if there was a water main break, they might have to tear it all up again.” He added that it may have also been prudent to bury the power lines and take out the parking meters, like the streetscape in Charles Town did.

There were mixed reviews on the actual design of the streetscape and how it affects the drainage systems and the use of the roads. Maria Allen, a recent Shepherd University graduate who is opening a taco shop called Maria’s Taqueria at 111 W. German St., likes the look of the streetscape, and believes that it fits in well with the character of the town. She approves of the brick and concrete juxtaposition of sidewalk. She complains, though, about the drainage system and the fact that the town took 8 parking spots on German Street. Andreus Wallace-Miller, a four-year resident of Shepherdstown and chef at The Town’s Inn, Pub, and Eatery in Harper’s Ferry, strongly disapproved of the concrete. “They didn’t use the water-permeable materials they were going to use,” he says. “The water would seep straight into the ground instead of running into the gutters. The water treatment plant isn’t built for the volume of water it gets.” He remarked that the water treatment plant is overtaxed, and that the drainage system wouldn’t help the frequent water main breaks. The drainage system was by far the biggest complaint.

Nicole Vernon, a chef at the Blue Moon Caf at 202 E. High St. and Shepherdstown resident since 2002, believes that function was sacrificed for form. “Because they chose to plant dogwood trees that have roots on the surface of the soil, they’ll have to uproot those trees in the next few years. The root system will most likely grow into the streetscape. A lot of town funds will have to go into redoing it.”

The business owners interviewed said that it was likely to bring in more customers.

Lucas Pierce, a Shepherd student and owner of Shaharazade’s tea room and restaurant at the corner of German and Church streets, had no complaints.

“Clearly it brings some business to a smaller town,” Pierce said. “It even brings out local people who don’t go out in town a lot.”

Lissa Brown, one of the owners of Lost Dog Coffee at 134 E. German St., concurs.

“It’s easy to find fault with any change, but this is good,” Brown said. “I look at all the older people walking calmly down the street.” She says that the storefront is more visible with the renovations. “They left the trees, but cleared out a lot of the other stuff, so the artists don’t mind.” She was the only person to remark that it is made to be more handicap-accessible. She even pointed out the courtesy of the construction work: “They did one part of the street at one point, and the other part at another, so we could keep the store open.”

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