BUCKHANNON – The president of the city’s Planning Commission on Thursday provided a summary of feedback gathered from the public regarding ideas for future uses of the old Chase bank drive-thru lot on Madison Street.
Dr. Susan Aloi, head of the Planning Commission, attended Buckhannon City Council’s July 15 meeting to give a synopsis of input gathered from community members at a June 15 special city Planning Commission meeting. In addition to sharing community members’ input, Aloi said the Planning Commission’s paramount recommendation to council was to finalize plans for the one-acre lot as soon as possible.
The Planning Commission held a special meeting on June 15 to solicit input from the public on possible uses for the property in question, which the city purchased from Citizens Bank of West Virginia in March 2020. Aloi explained that Planning Commission has no decision authority; its role is merely to make recommendations to council regarding zoning, land use and more.
“Our role is really to facilitate the goals of the Comprehensive Plan which we developed,” Aloi said. “When the city purchased that property, the stated intention was to expand the use of Jawbone Park.”
Aloi said that according to city architect Bryson VanNostrand, good city design incorporates green space in a manner that is proportional to concrete and preserves neighborhood borders with residential areas. Aloi also told council that because the approximately one-acre property is in the flood zone, consideration needed to be given to zoning regulations and flood zone restrictions.
“This property is all in the flood zone, so that does prohibit a few of the ideas people suggested,” Aloi said.
Aloi said residents who spoke at the June 15 meeting suggested a variety of uses for the property, including green space with picnic tables under umbrellas or bench seating; additional parking; restrooms; a splash pad; playground equipment; a skateboard park; an ice-skating rink or something similar for winter outdoor activities; pickle ball; and facilities to expand event-hosting capacity, such as vendor hookups.
“Several local skateboarders attended a following Create Buckhannon meeting to make their case for including a small skate park,” Aloi said. “Several designs of small skate parks in other towns were shared and discussed.”
Aloi said at last week’s Create Buckhannon meeting, one of the skateboarders had a drawing of what they had envisioned, noting the group was high school-aged and “very savvy.”
“Bryson seems to think that several elements – green space with seating tables, a residential border, parking, a small skate park and space for restrooms – can all be incorporated into one design,” Aloi shared. “He does not think several of these ideas exclude other ideas. He does think these can all be incorporated.”
Aloi said the Commission feels the city needs to discuss how much additional parking is needed downtown and what type of restroom facilities are appropriate.
“We were informed by the health department that we are required to have one restroom facility for every 150 people,” Aloi said.
Concluding points from the meeting Aloi shared included the importance of maximizing the usefulness of the area; combining some of the elements into one design; and aligning the use of the space with the city’s comprehensive Buckhannon 2025 plan.
“The goals of the Comprehensive Plan that seem the most relevant to me are increasing outdoor recreational opportunities, promoting physical activity to improve health and collaborating to enhance the city and strengthen the community, making sure lots of voices are heard,” Aloi said.
Councilman David Thomas said ongoing operational costs should be considered when redeveloping the lot.
“If we have a skate park, a splash pad or an ice-skating rink, there are certain things that have to be done to maintain them and keep them safe and that has to be part of the plan long term,” Thomas said. “I have also been on the council for a number of years, and I am not against a skate park for our citizens or our youth, but I remember we did have one where we put in at least $35,000 and this was 2004, 2005 or 2006, and it was used but also, it lost the entertainment [value] quite fast.”
“We had a lot of vandalism there, and we also had a lot of undesirables there that were doing some certain activities,” Thomas added, “so, whatever we do, we have to make sure we are able to have the appropriate recreational activities there without intruders coming in and doing things they should not be doing.”
Although a splash pad was one of the suggestions mentioned at the Planning Commission meeting, Aloi said splash pads are prohibited from being constructed in flood zones for sanitary reasons.
Aloi said the Planning Commission’s primary recommendation is that Buckhannon City Council finalize plans for redeveloping the lot soon.
“There are some things that need completed before the World Association of Marching Show Bands Championship happens in 2023,” Aloi said. “It will be here before we know it – in just two summers. The intent has to be finalized … It is just an eyesore right now. The tiles are falling down, and it is just gross. It is not how we want to present ourselves.”
Councilman CJ Rylands, a member of the Planning Commission, said city officials would like to begin demolition and construction on the lot in summer 2022.
“There are no bad ideas,” Rylands said. “We are trying to gather the information, passing it on to the planning professionals – the architect – and I think he is taking a very thoughtful approach to this and his idea of taking the area on Lincoln Street and kind of giving that back to the residents – there would not be any cars coming through there anymore. We are attempting to facilitate this with you on that and come up with a thoughtful approach to put something in place for the next construction season – or demolition season.”
Rylands said developing the lot would expand the capacity of Jawbone Park to become a regional event center.
“The further we differentiate ourselves and [enhance] our capacity to host these events, the better off we will be,” he said.
Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner and Thomas said they believe additional conversations about possible uses are needed.
“It is good we got this conversation started,” Skinner said.