City mall walkway plan to be changed

Posted: January 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

Work continues in the second week of renovations on the Loudoun Street Mall. City Council agreed Tuesday to change pedestrian pathways in the overall design from a serpentine design to a straight one. The change will add about $15,000 to the $7.1 million renovation costs. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — City Council voted Tuesday night to straighten out the Loudoun Street Mall.

At its monthly meeting, the group voted 8-1 to abandon plans for a serpentine design for the pedestrian mall in favor of a straighter course.

The decision followed a work session in which the councilors were told that the design previously approved would prohibit the use of the public right of way in front of some buildings. Space in front of restaurants is popular for cafes and available for retail.

State College, Pa.-based HRI Inc. is being paid $7.1 million to replace underground infrastructure along the mall, install a new surface and add some ground-level amenities. The project’s cost includes $700,000 for public bathrooms, gateway entrances and a splash pad water feature.

Construction is to be completed by April 30. HRI has until May 31 to finish the landscaping.

It’s the pedestrian mall’s first major renovation since it was built in 1974, covering about 1,600 feet between Piccadilly and Cork streets.

The serpentine design was created by placing some planters in the mall center. The reasoning was that having the walking path closer to some buildings would encourage window shopping.

Questions about that plan restricting the use of space in front of buildings were raised by Stan Corneal in December 2011 as members of the Old Town Development Board (OTDB) worked to prepare their preferred design.

However, the board voted in March to approve the serpentine pathway, and City Council signed off on the design in May.

The design change was made a week after the work began.

Because the walking path/fire lane would come within five feet of some building fronts, restaurant cafes and outdoor displays by merchants in those spaces would be prohibited. Councilors apparently didn’t realize that in May.

“I don’t feel comfortable endorsing a plan that limits development opportunities for any property,” Council President Jeffrey Buettner said during the work session.

Added Vice-Mayor Milt McInturff: “If we have the opportunity to eliminate this by a simple design change, ... then we should try to correct it now.”

Perry Eisenach, the city’s public services director, said it is early enough in the project for the changes to be made easily. The city will have to pay about $15,000 to make the change because HRI has made long planters for the center of the mall; shorter ones are preferred closer to storefronts.

City Manager Dale Iman said moving the fire lane away from the buildings might benefit fire protection, too. He said it would be difficult to get water to the top of some buildings if fire engines were that close.

Councilor John Tagnesi was the lone member to vote against the change. He said after the vote that he didn’t see any sense in the city spending money to change the design when no one has complained about it.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com