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Council gets update on downtown plan

Suffolk City Council received an update on the first steps of the Downtown Master Plan at its Wednesday meeting.

“We’re attempting to keep the momentum going on the downtown plan implementation,” said Deputy City Manager Scott Mills. “There’s a lot of planning, design, things of that nature, that go into it.”

One aspect of the plan, adopted by City Council in June 2018, is the review and improvement of regulatory processes.

The city has contracted with Commonwealth Preservation Group to review and provide recommendations on amending the Historic District Design Guidelines and Historic Conservation Overlay District regulations.

The original version of the guidelines was published in 1990 and updated in 1999, and expanded to address the commercial area more intensively. Paige Pollard and Katie Paulson of CPG led a discussion of the design guidelines in March.

CPG plans to update council on the public feedback it has received at a June 19 work session.

“We anticipate after that they will do the actual rewrite, and we will be back to you in the fall, hopefully, with amendments to those that can be adopted,” Mills said.

Mills said the funding for that is separate from the $735,000 the council approved last November to advance downtown plan initiatives.

The city has allocated funding for projects to work on in the first year of the 10-year plan, including a new downtown library. The council has approved the fiscal year 2020-2029 Capital Improvement Program and Plan, which includes $1.9 million in the first year for library design.

Another opportunity is the “festival site,” which has four components — the demolition of the old Assessor’s Building on Commerce Street, reworking the Commerce Street parking lot to add 17 spaces, the extension of the park adjacent of the courthouse out to Commerce Street and then the design and building of the Festival Events/Market Hall stage, Mills said. He said the city plans to execute a contract with HBA Architecture and Interior Design of Virginia Beach to proceed with the design of those projects.

The city has also been contacted by a private development company about the potential adaptive re-use of the Golden Peanut site.

“I’ll be meeting with them next week to further discuss that,” Mills said. “They’ve submitted some preliminary information to us, and hopefully we’ll be successful.”

He hopes to come back to council with a potential rezoning of the Golden Peanut property to accommodate a re-use of the site.

Charles Parr, owner and funeral director at Parr Funeral Home and Crematory and a former City Council member, purchased the 10-acre property at 303 S. Saratoga St. from Golden Peanut Company for $225,000 in January 2018. It was slated for development in 2017 by Monument Companies, but it did not come to fruition due to uncertainty about the future of the state’s historic tax credit program.

The city is also working on rebranding the downtown area as well as updating its directional signage, Mills said.

The city put out a request for proposals and picked a company, BrandFirst, to handle the branding for the downtown area, and Mills said the city should have a contract with the company and get started with that in June.

After that, the city plans to put in place a unified sign system to guide people to public and important buildings, as well as public parking.

“The branding effort is important to incorporate that into the sign designs,” Mills said.

The city sent out a request for proposals on the unified signage and reviewed eight proposals, he said, with plans to interview three companies next week. Once that is done, Mills expects work to implement the unified signage to begin by the end of the summer.

Mills said the city has rewritten and updated standards for tree trimming and has solicited proposals for that. It has also found areas where the city needs to do tree pruning around lights.

The city has also set standards for new trees that may need to be planted on the streetscape because some of the existing trees are causing significant damage to the sidewalk infrastructure, Mills said, adding that trees would be replaced only as needed.

There are plans to meet with Dominion Energy to discuss switching lights from a duller high pressure sodium to a brighter LED that will provide more lighting in parking lots, Mills said, as well as putting in place an integrated control system for lights so the city can control the brightness of the lights.

The crosswalks at the intersection of Market and Main streets and the intersection of Main and Washington streets have been updated, Mills said. The city has also partnered with SPARC, which approached the city about painting downtown trash cans. In a pilot program, Mills said SPARC is in the process of painting four trash cans and a couple of planters.

In the plan’s small business and retail strategy, the Economic Development Authority is finalizing grant agreements with the four Community Business Launch winners, and funding has been reserved in the EDA’s 2019-2020 budget to hold a similar program next year to encourage new and expanding small business growth downtown.

Councilman Donald Goldberg asked Mills to look into traffic on Commerce and East Washington streets to control speed in that area.

“There has been some concern there with speed there on East Washington Street and the Amici’s Pizza area,” Mills said.

Councilman Roger Fawcett said he looks forward to seeing the implementation of the master plan.

“It’s very encouraging,” Fawcett said. “I look forward to seeing how some of this actually comes to fruition and we get out there and start physically seeing some things.”