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City approves plan for downtown, creates Creative Maker District

City approves plan for downtown, creates Creative Maker District

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Downtown Fredericksburg could one day include an off-road trail and decorative beacons along Sophia Street to help connect the city visually to the Rappahannock River.

Those are among the recommendations outlined in changes to the comprehensive plan for Planning Area 7 that City Council unanimously approved this week. Others pave the way to make the city’s oldest section more walkable, link its green spaces and upgrade the railroad station as a hub for both commuters and visitors.

Council members also unanimously approved amendments to the unified development ordinance to form a Creative Maker District in Planning Area 6, which is the area between the Rappahannock River and the Rappahannock Canal, and rezone 78 acres in the northern Princess Anne Street and U.S. 1 corridors.

Fredericksburg divided the city into 10 neighborhood planning areas and hired Streetsense, a Washington design and strategy firm, to evaluate land uses and zoning for areas 6 and 7. Its recommendations were reviewed and amended by city staff, the Planning Commission and City Council before being approved.

“What we are doing here in these small area plans is recognizing what we have, and how we can value it and how we can maintain it and allow it to grow, but to grow in a way that it doesn’t lose its character,” said Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw.

City Council amended the comprehensive plan to adopt a new small area plan to guide future development in Planning Area 7. It notes that the area serves as the downtown not only for the city but the entire region, and calls for keeping residents, local visitors and out-of-town tourists in mind. It adds that downtown faces a number of challenges, such as an underused and overgrown riverfront, but also presents a number of opportunities such as protecting its historic resources through careful adaptive reuse of buildings and appropriate new construction.

Streetsense found that people are passionate about Fredericksburg’s positive aspects, particularly the Rappahannock. The company came up with the idea of adding beacons along Sophia Street as a low-tech way to highlight the river and bring people down to the riverfront for events. It also proposed what is being called the Bankside Trail, which would run along the river from Amelia Street to Frederick Street and tie into the proposed Chatham Bridge Trail and East Coast Greenway.

The new small area plan also protects existing neighborhoods by updating zoning so it’s in keeping with how they’ve developed, and calls for improving walkability by adding such things as crosswalks along Lafayette Boulevard to make it safer for pedestrians to reach the VCR Trail. It also recommends conducting a feasibility study for the acquisition and renovation of the 1910 train station for passenger use.

In addition, Trestle Park, a quarter-acre open space near the station, was added to the city’s inventory of parks based on comments from people living near the train stations, and added the half-acre Canal Street Wharf site to the list of city-owned property designated for future parks.

The new Creative Maker Zoning District is designed to encourage entrepreneurship and be affordable for small and first-time business owners involved in such things as production or repair of small machines or electronic parts and equipment; woodworking and cabinet building; publishing and lithography; and computer design and development. They would not need a special-use permit, which they’ve had to seek previously.

The district also uses a form-based code that adds standards to the zoning ordinance to ensure that any future development is compatible in form and scale to adjacent residential neighborhoods. Transitional zones are built into the ordinance to provide additional protection to single-family uses.

Several people who live in the Canal Quarter neighborhood sent letters read during the public comment section of Tuesday’s virtual meeting stating that they were excited about plans for the Creative Maker District, but concerned about how development in that part of town will increase residential density.

Elizabeth Black said asked the city to start with a conservative standard for density and adjust it as needed with special-use permits.

“Growth for my area is limitless, but land is not,” she wrote. “Please go slowly and wisely as we better my neighborhood.”

Several residents also asked for a cap on density in the new district. City Council member Billy Withers said that he was also concerned about how industrial development might impact the residential neighborhoods.

Mike Craig, the city’s senior planner, said the form-based code addresses the density issue, and the public will also have the opportunity to weigh in on proposed development during the special-use permit process.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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