Risë Straight Hanifan, director of Christian Education at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, asks city officials to consider installing an recreation attraction geared toward youth during Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting.

Parking lots, public restrooms and places to play: Residents, city officials discuss the most popular proposals for former Chase Bank drive-thru lot

BUCKHANNON – Parking lots paired with green space, public bathrooms, or a youth-oriented recreational attraction such as a splash pad or skate park.

Those were the three main ideas put forth Tuesday evening when community members and city officials brainstormed potential plans for the one-acre Madison Street property located across from Jawbone Park.

The City of Buckhannon’s Planning Commission convened in a special meeting June 15 to offer the community a chance to voice their opinions about the future of the property and what its purpose will be. Previously, the property served as a drive-thru location for Chase Bank, but the city purchased the property last spring with the intention of expanding Jawbone Park, adding more parking or developing green space.

City councilman and Planning Commission member CJ Rylands explained what’s unfolded since.

“With that intention, probably four or five months ago, I talked to Mr. (Bryson) VanNostrand, the city architect, and some folks like the mayor (Robbie Skinner) and the city recorder (Randy Sanders) and some others and held some preliminary planning sessions trying to identify what exists, what could be and what we are looking for,” Rylands said.

Dr. Susan Aloi, planning commission president, said the commission is not authorized to make any decisions, but they wanted to gather information from the public and share any ideas with city council.

City recorder Randy Sanders and Planning Commission president, Dr. Susan Aloi, at Tuesday evening’s special meeting.

The three most prominent ideas that emerged during the meeting were to turn the property into parking lots with a dedicated green space; to build public restrooms; or to construct some recreational attraction, like a splash pad or a skate park.

City architect Bryson VanNostrand drew up a plan to make the space into parking lots and a designated greenspace with the intention of making the space more residentially friendly.

“I would like this to be returned to residential usage in some way,” VanNostrand said. “I would like the neighborhood to think that it’s part of their neighborhood, and I think from here down, that is a perfect usage to support the green space of Jawbone.”

The plans on display showed two 32-spot parking lots with 65 feet in the middle for dedicated green space and the removal of the old bank drive-thru building.

“My recommendation would be to get rid of [the idea of] renovating it into bathrooms or a concession stand,” VanNostrand said. “All those things are possible, but it’s basically a concrete slab building with one bathroom, so at the end of the day, if we were to start thinking about renovating that space, it will be more expensive to renovate than to just wipe it out and build one that we want.”

Chris Garrett and James Arhuidese, sanitarians with the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said their recommendation was to build permanent, public bathroom facilities.

“We foresee Jawbone becoming more popular, and Dr. Reed, the medical director of the Health Department, agreed that Jawbone is going to be more popular,” Garrett said. “I live in Braxton County and people ask me about Jawbone Park and Festival Fridays and the other activities that go on there, so you’re getting folks from outside of the county, and it’s only going to increase, so there is a need for sanitary facilities.”

Arhuidese said adding the public bathroom facilities would be beneficial to the entire community.

“We had a lengthy discussion about this at the health department and we came up with some resolutions,” he said. “We recommend the property should be used as a permanent structure to benefit the general public, especially since we have a lot of events and festivals. A permanent restroom structure would be very beneficial for the public, and we strongly believe that is going to help and improve the sanitary conditions for the public by giving them the opportunity to use them and wash their hands regularly, especially during the festivals – not to mention the odor will be removed, compared to the portable toilets.”

Rylands said the city’s Consolidated Public Works Board has dealt with public restrooms in the past.

“We’ve had this conversation for several months and as a member of Consolidated Public Works, we’ve dealt with all the issues that public restrooms present to the city to maintain – the vandalism and things that go on [in and around them], and it’s problematic,” Rylands said.

Jerry Arnold, director of Public Works for the City of Buckhannon, said he opposed installing any more permanent restrooms.

“You can purchase a portable restroom trailer that has all the amenities that you need with washing, running water and sanitary connections, which we spent thousands of dollars on in Jawbone Park to upgrade our infrastructure for that type of equipment for the vendors,” Arnold said. “These trailers are not portable toilets; they are restrooms and depending on what you want to spend – you can have granite countertops – they are really elaborate, but with that being said, once the events are over for the summer or if you have an event in another location, those restrooms can follow your crowd.”

Arnold said they could also store the trailers at the Street Department’s new facility on Mud Lick Road and avoid the cost a permanent structure would incur.

Risë Straight Hanifan, director of Christian Education at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, said she appreciates the work VanNostrand and Rylands do for the community, but she did not see a need for a parking lot or more green space.

“I don’t have an issue with parking or green space, but we live in West Virginia and it’s green all around us,” Hanifan said. “When we look out, we can see trees, we can see grass – we’re not in New York City where the parks are the only green space that you have. If we’re trying to attract more people to the area, whether to live or to take advantage of tourist opportunities, they’re not going to think, ‘Oh wonderful, they have more than 500 parking spaces in downtown for a town with 5,700 residents.’”

Hanifan said the city should make plans that benefit the community for the long term.

“There are 489 parking spaces in downtown Buckhannon right now, and I do understand we will be hosting an international event in a few years, but my thought is, we cannot create a long-term plan for a one-time event, and do you think that the visitors are going to return because they’re like, ‘that town has ample parking’?” Hanifan asked.

“If we had a splash pad, it would offer young people a place of belonging and a way to say they are valued members of the community,” she added. “Likewise, a skate park would be an excellent addition to downtown. Currently, the city has an ordinance, or at least it did, which is outdated and discriminatory that criminalized skateboarding in city limits. I understand it’s not enforced, but it is arbitrary and discriminatory.”

Hanifan said the location would be ideal for gathering, and installing something recreational would be more beneficial as a whole.

“Downtown is the perfect location because it’s a place to gather. You could put a skate park out at the high school, but nobody’s going to go to it; it needs to be an area they can get to easily,” Hanifan said. “This community is inclusive and supportive of the arts and focused on small businesses, and it’s a place for children and youth, so having a place for them to gather only furthers the aims of the 2025 plan, for what we want in our community. I strongly, strongly urge you [to consider] using the space for something that benefits the children and youth of our community.”

Amanda Hayes, a Create Buckhannon member, said most of the parking in town isn’t being utilized.

“We don’t need another parking lot,” Hayes said. “We have parking lots that are not used 95 percent of the time and while it looks nice, it would just be another parking lot to be used for a few events a year like Festival Fridays and the band event, Strawberry Festival, and the rest of the time it would just sit empty,” Hayes said. “The Development Authority built a parking lot for their building, and you can drive by there during the day and see how many cars are in it, because the majority of people that work there are parking as close as they can to the building on Main Street.”

Aloi said the Planning Commission would forward the minutes from Tuesday’s meeting to city council. She urged council members to discuss all the suggestions brought up during the meeting. City Recorder Randy Sanders said he hopes a decision can be reached soon because he would like to break ground on the project in 2022.

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