Mall vehicles may get the axe

Posted: June 15, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The talk of Old Town — whether delivery vehicles should be allowed on the renovated Loudoun Street Mall — is coming to Rouss City Hall.

At their 6 p.m. work session on Tuesday, City Council members are expected to discuss whether vehicles should be allowed routine access to the pedestrian mall or be banned from it.

The topic has arisen since the May completion of a major renovation project on the mall, the first complete overhaul since it was built in 1974. The city spent $7.1 million to replace utility lines and the walking surface and add some above-ground amenities.

The City Code states that vehicles weighing less than 24,000 pounds can travel on the mall from 6 to 11 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. for commercial purposes.

However, an ordinance has been prepared to change that if the councilors are so inclined.

It comes with a 7-1 recommendation from the Old Town Development Board that all but city and emergency vehicles be barred from the mall unless they have a permit to perform special work or deliveries.

Approval of the ordinance could occur as early as Aug. 13.

Proponents say keeping delivery trucks off the mall will preserve its look and improve safety for pedestrians. Opponents say mall merchants need the access for their businesses.

The action memo on the agenda item includes a recommendation that the 20 loading zones near the mall be studied to determine if the number is adequate. It also requests that enforcement be stepped up to ensure that vehicles parking there are using the zones properly.

Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher and Fire Marshal Jeremy Luttrell said they support the vehicle ban for safety reasons. Public Services Director Perry Eisenach also backs it for safety and maintenance reasons, saying the current replacement cost for the mall’s pavers is $400,000.

Downtown Manager Jennifer Bell consulted representatives of 48 mall business or building owners and Dorian Brown, president of the Old Town Winchester Business Association (OTWBA), to get their opinions. The majority favored the delivery-vehicle prohibition or were neutral.

The comments are included in the report. Eleven were labeled as being negative, though one of them seems to be neutral or in favor of the ban.

The concerns cited included whether businesses would be able to obtain the deliveries they need to operate, to the extra stress it would place on delivery people.

Nancy Devine of Old Town Stained Glass said the fragile nature of the items she brings to her store or that are brought there makes increasing the distance for deliveries problematic.

An Impact Church official was worried about the ability of elderly or disabled members to get to the church on Sunday.

Representatives of two businesses questioned the way the ban discussions have come about.

“I don’t recall this possibility mentioned during the ‘sales pitch’ part of this project,” Todd Drunagle, owner of Tech Team Solutions, is quoted as commenting. “How many more handicaps of location will the merchants be asked to endure?”

He also questioned why the inability of emergency vehicles to get around delivery trucks is viewed as a problem now when they would have been blocked in spots with the original design, too.

A representative of the Door Mouse also questioned the planning process.

“It would have been very beneficial,” the person was quoted as saying, “if this issue had been addressed before they spent the money they spent on the way it has been finished.

“This is a working mall, not Disneyland. And while it is nice for there to be so many things for people to do down here, meeting the bottom line is for those of us in business the most important part.”

Bell’s report also includes information about the delivery-vehicles policies of five other American pedestrian malls.

Such vehicles are not allowed on the malls in Charlottesville; Cumberland, Md.; and Helena, Mont.

Burlington, Vt., allows deliveries from 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, while Salem, Mass., allows them from 8 to 10 a.m.

Brown said OTWBA members will vote on the issue at their July 10 meeting. The results will be provided to the City Council.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw