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‘Ready for a New Era:’ New planning vision, zoning, Comprehensive Plan become law

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 17, Ranson City Council members unanimously approved proposals some two years in the making, enacting a new zoning code and Comprehensive Plan designed to guide growth and redevelopment for decades to come.

“There was never any doubt these measures would pass into law,” said Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill. “That’s because, from the beginning, we involved everybody – property owners, business people, developers and elected officials from both Ranson and Charles Town. We all had a hand in turning our ideas into plans and ordinances. By making them law, we’re signaling to our partners in the federal agencies that funded the planning and to those considering investment in our region that we’re ready for a new era.”

Ranson attracted $6 million in grants and loans from three federal agencies — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) – and contracted with an international team of consultants. With the EPA money, the planning partners designed proposals for repurposing six brownfield sites into future locations for new businesses. HUD funding provided resources for a rezoning approach to guide smarter growth and redevelopment. And the DOT grant enabled the redesign of a key corridor into a connective boulevard and plans for the transformation of historic Charles Washington Hall in Charles Town into a commuter center, strengthening links between regional rail and regional residents. HUD BEDI funds will assist in the redevelopment of the former Kidde Foundry.

In a series of meetings with community members, staff and officials – including those in neighboring Charles Town – the separate planning efforts were interwoven into a comprehensive strategy. To the federally funded planning projects, the City of Ranson added a revamp of its Comprehensive Plan to bring it into compliance with the new plans and zoning code.

“The whole became greater than the sum of the parts,” said Mayor Hamill.

Each step in the process was documented on this website, unfolding through the posts preceding this one. So citizens, officials and future community investors had open access to follow the progress from beginning until final passage of the proposals on April 17.

Finalized versions of the adopted documents can be found here.

Posted in Implementationwith No Comments →

Ranson and Charles Town’s Future? Sustainable, connected, in character

On Wednesday, September 14, Ranson and Charles Town citizens and leaders sloshed into Charles Town’s Old Opera House from a dusk downpour to celebrate the conclusion of an intensive week of planning with their consulting team.

“Unless you were on the third floor of city hall this week to watch these people work,” said Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill, “it would be hard to imagine how hard they went at it.”

Susan Henderson, of PlaceMakers, who led the land use and coding component of the three-component project team, turned the compliment back on the mayor, the staffs of the two cities and the citizens who showed up for so many discussions during the week. “We’ve been overwhelmed at the participation,” she said.

Henderson, Sean Garrigan and Rick Hall — leaders of groups working on former industrial sites and the transportation segment of the project — gave the Wednesday night crowd a peak at how Ranson and Charles Town might look after decades of growth guided by the ideas and plans tested and refined during the previous week.

You can download the complete presentation here (3.9mb .pdf). To get an overview of project goals and the roles of the three federal agencies that funded the effort — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) — check out the column to the immediate right. And follow the progress of the workshop from the opening night till the closing evening at the Opera House in the posts preceding this one.

Henderson’s portion of the program focused on what she called the project’s “connective thread,” the SmartCode zoning that stitches together all three components with design rules for enabling compact, walkable, mixed-use environments. Watch the video below to get a feel for how the Ranson SmartCode can do that.

Garrigan, partner in Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates, explained how his group attached storm water management issues without sacrificing the goals of responsible land use and transportation planning. “There are ways to site buildings,” said Garrigan, “so that you can not only maximize the economic opportunities but also address important environmental concerns.”

Hall emphasized the same synergy. “We have a saying,” said Hall, “that goes this way: ‘LU1, TR2.’ That means land use planning first, transportation planning second. If you plan first for responsible land use, we can finds several different ways to satisfy transportation goals within that context. If you try to do it the other way around, trying to make land use fit an already designed transportation plan, it’s as if you’re fighting with both hands tied behind your back.”

Illustrations of key segments of the team’s combined work is below. As Henderson cautioned in her introduction, these are illustrative of an array of alternative designs among a great many options. One advantage of the SmartCode is that there can be a broad range of approaches if development and redevelopment adheres to a few simple rules about what’s appropriate in what “character zone.”

It’s also important to remember that the illustrations depict build-out over time, perhaps a long time, depending upon market influences. So while portions of the plans described on Wednesday night can get on track as soon as the cities choose, other aspects await opportunities beyond their control.

The "transect" of Ranson, a visual summary of how Ranson becomes more intense as it moves from countryside to downtown. The "character zones" of the proposed SmartCode zoning overhaul, designated T-Zones 1 through 5, are based on the varying character that occurs along this natural system. Click for larger view.

           

Development character typical of T5, the most intense zone under the new SmartCode. Click for larger view.

           

Development character typical of T4, the proposed SmartCode's designation for general urban neighborhoods. Click for larger view.

           

This T4 animated sequence reflects adaptive reuse and infill development within existing neighborhoods.

           

Development character typical of T3, the SmartCode's sub-urban designation. Predominantly single family in nature, but still very walkable. Click for larger view.

           

This T3 animated sequence reflects transportation improvements on an existing segment of Fairfax Blvd.

           

Existing conditions within the Ranson Old Town project area. Click for larger view.

           

A revised zoning map, based on the proposed SmartCode zoning overhaul. Darker areas reflect areas of greater intensity; lighter areas, lesser intensity. Click for larger view.

           

Old Town's five project sites built out under the regulation of the new zoning ordinance. Click for larger view.

           

Proposed site plan for George Street/Fairfax Blvd, north of the tracks, to complete redevelopment begun by the APUS building. Click for larger view.

           

The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.

           

Lancaster Circle at City Hall, with enhanced pedestrian access, parking, and redevelopment all around. Click for larger view.

           

The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.

           

Proposed site plan for Powhatan Place at North Mildred and East Beltline. Click for larger view.

           

The proposed mixed-use neighborhood center at Fairfax Blvd. and Beltline. Click for larger view.

           

The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.

           

Proposed site plan for completing the connection between Fairfax Blvd. and Fairfax Crossing, reflecting the oval spec'd out in the original plan of Ranson, circa. 1890. Click for larger view.

           

The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.

           

A proposed development scenario for the longstanding Clayhill Farms, a walkable, garden neighborhood based on the principles of agrarian urbanism. Click for larger view.

           

The same proposal, built out, viewed from the air. Click for larger view.

           

Posted in Workshop Weekwith 1 Comment →

Workshop Wraps Wednesday Night
at the Old Opera House, 7 p.m.

The weeklong Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected workshop concludes at 7pm Wednesday evening, September 14, at the Charles Town Opera House with a presentation by the teams working in collaboration with the community on plans and ideas to shape future growth for the region.

Here’s what attendees will see:

  • A first rough draft of ideas and plans that connect key components of the project – the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard/George Street into a walkable, mixed-use “green corridor;
  • The revitalization of six former industrial sites; the rehabilitation of historic Charles Washington Hall into a combination civic building/regional commuter center; and
  • The knitting together of project goals with a regulatory approach that privileges walkability, energy efficiency, environmental responsibility and mixed use.

Starting with a tour of the two downtowns and outlying areas on Thursday of last week, it’s been a week of intensive collaboration between the cities, their staffs, residents, business owners and the consulting specialists.

The consulting team, divided into the three components that generally parallel the federal funding sources, have been working out of meeting space converted into a make-shift studio on the third floor of Ranson’s City Hall. It makes for cozy space for the 30-plus team members but for easier collaboration and cross-pollination among the various specialties. Click an image below to review scenes from the day.

For an overview of project goals, check out the overview in the column to the immediate right. To follow the path of public discussions, presentations and critiques, read the posts preceding this one. And to read background reports, notes from the week’s meetings and explanations of the three federal grants that have made the planning efforts possible, go to the Resources section in the toolbar above.

Dede Christopher's illustration-in-progress shows resulting character under the proposed T3 zoning designation.

Posted in Workshop Weekwith No Comments →

A New “Green Corridor” Merges, Symbolizes Project Goals

If there’s a signature project among those the workshop teams are tackling this week, it’s the North-South Fairfax Boulevard/George Street thoroughfare.

The goal: To create a true boulevard that enables walkable, neighborhood-appropriate mixed uses. It’s intended to be a “green” corridor because it’s designed to make the most of state-of-the-art storm water management systems and other environmentally friendly techniques.

In the video below, specialists from all three project teams – those working on components funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – explain their roles.

To see how the new green corridor fits within the broader goals of the workshop, check out the overview column to the immediate right and the posts preceding this one.

The 1890 plan for what is now Ranson and Charles Town. Click for larger view.

The inspiration for the green corridor comes partly from history. The 1890 plat of the Charles Town/Ranson area depicts a connective spine integrating neighborhoods and what are now the commercial districts of the two towns. Though Ranson wasn’t incorporated until 1910, the original design for the boulevard seamlessly links the two towns.

Design of the boulevard is funded primarily through DOT. Read more about the overall transportation planning effort here. But because properties within the corridor area are former industrial sites prime for redevelopment, the EPA-funded focus on “brownfield” sites offers an opportunity to combine community and federal agency goals. Read more about the EPA-funded efforts here.

The same goes for the HUD-financed land use planning and zoning component. The goal is to assure that redevelopment follows rules that encourage walkable neighborhoods and appropriate commercial uses mixed in with a broad range of residential options. So the regulatory framework has to support that. And the “form-based” coding approach customized for Ranson/Charles Town by the project’s coding specialists will do just that.

Posted in Workshop Weekwith No Comments →

Off and Running:
Workshop launches with flourish

More than 80 folks turned out on a rainy Thursday night, September 8, for the kick-off of a weeklong workshop to shape the future of the Ranson/Charles Town region.

The evening was part celebration of what’s already taken place, the coming-together of the two towns in an historic planning effort, and part introduction to an intensive week of collaboration.

The celebration inched up a notch or two Thursday night when Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill announced to the crowd at Washington High School in Charles Town that Ranson had been chosen to receive an additional $1.5 million grant, plus a $3 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The money will help redevelop a former factory site.

Added to the $1.5 million already funding the week’s workshop planning, the new money means federal agencies are investing a total of $6 million in Ranson and Charles Town with the conviction that this region is a good place to leverage taxpayer dollars to create economic opportunity and shape more compact, walkable, livable places for broad cross-sections of people.

“These are cities on the right track,” said the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mathy Stanislaus, one of a half-dozen federal officials on hand for the planning workshop launch.

Ben Brown interviews Mathy Stanislaus post-presentation.

Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, delivered the evening’s keynote address. He lauded the Ranson/Charles Town partnership as a key example of the type of planning that’s necessary in an era in which community ambitions must pass the bang-for-the-buck test before they can be supported by public or private investment.

From the federal agencies to local communities, planning and engineering officials know they have to consolidate efforts and focus on getting the most results from diminished resources. Planning in silos is out; collaboration is in.

The Obama Administration’s commitment to a multi-agency Partners in Sustainable Communities initiative is evidenced in grants like the ones that have made the Ranson/Charles Town project possible. To address the workshop’s goals in a comprehensive way, the towns have combined targeted funding from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and HUD.

To get a sense of the goals of specific components of the project funded by the separate grants, check out the column to the immediate right. And follow the path to this point in the posts preceding this one.

Over the next six days, a team of consulting planners and designers will work alongside Ranson and Charles Town city staffs, property owners, developers and residents to test ideas and draft plans that integrate goals for growth in harmony with community character. To see the full array of opportunities to participate directly, check out the week’s schedule. And even if you can’t be with us in person, follow and comment on the daily updates here on these web pages.

Posted in Workshop Weekwith No Comments →

Adapting, Reinvigorating Old Sites: Another key workshop goal

The revitalization of former factory sites, scrap yards and other dormant or under-utilized properties can be one of the most rewarding of community initiatives. Instead of allowing these “brownfield” sites to become eyesores, why not find a productive purpose for them, especially if their redesign can be integrated into a more comprehensive community plan?

Thanks to a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that’s exactly what Ranson and Charles Town and a team of consulting specialists have in mind as part of the weeklong public workshop that kicks off September 8.

For an overview of the workshop’s broader goals, check out the column to the immediate right. Follow the lead-up to the September 8 workshop launch by reading the posts preceding this one. And go here for a schedule of meetings and collaborative opportunities during the week.

“Ranson and Charles Town have a decade-long track record of partnering on brownfields clean-up and revitalization,” says Sean Garrigan of Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates. He’ll be the project director for the brownfields segment of the weeklong collaborative workshop.

“The results of the partnership have contributed to major transformations in the two communities,” says Garrigan. Most notable among them: The environmental clean-up of a former scrap yard, then the design and construction of the American Public University System’s 45,000-square-foot, highly energy efficient academic center on the former brownfield site.

“Now it’s time for the communities to update strategies to match changes in the economy, to take advantage of new job creation opportunities, to deploy green infrastructure innovations and to support comprehensive sustainable planning,” Garrigan says.

With help from an EPA pilot program grant of $150,000, Ranson and Charles Town and the planners, engineers and designers on the consulting team will be collaborating with the community to target six brownfield sites for revitalization during the September 8-14 workshop. Read about the EPA grant and the brownfields project goals here (.pdf).

In Ranson, the targeted sites are the shuttered Kidde/Powhatan Brass Foundry, the former Miller Chemical facility and the vacant AB&C warehouse. In Charles Town, the former Peoples Supply complex, a vacant parcel located between E. North Street and the CSX railroad tracks, and portions of the Charles Town Public Works Yard are on the study list. The map below lays it out.

Ranson’s brownfields planning is funded through a new U.S. EPA pilot grant program which awarded us $150,000 to apply to six targeted areas. Click for larger view.

           

All of the targeted areas are located adjacent to or are within existing neighborhoods. So they’re already on the radar for community revitalization and represent opportunities for redevelopment in harmony with community character. Enhancing economic vitality and elevating the quality-of-life for residents are fundamental goals of the upcoming workshop. So identifying ways that turn what are currently detractors into redevelopment opportunities that reinforce those goals will be a major contribution.

Join us for the week of idea testing and planning. Check out the schedule for opportunities to participate in person. And follow us here on these web pages. We’ll be posting news each day during the workshop from September 9 through the closing presentation.

Posted in Preparationwith No Comments →

  • Headline

    SPU Logo

    Ranson and Charles Town's next 100 years begin now.

    From September 8 through the 14th, we're charting the course for our next century. And everyone's invited.

    In an unprecedented week-long mega-workshop, city officials, residents, business community and a team of international consultants will be considering ideas and actions to help guide Ranson, Charles Town, and Jefferson County towards a future rich in opportunity for our families and businesses.



    The Ranson-Charles Town community has been selected by HUD, DOT and EPA to serve as a national model for how small rural cities on the fringe of a major metropolitan area can foster sustainable economic development, transit, and community livability through targeted and strategic planning and infrastructure investments.



    To facilitate this transformative change, planning funds are being used for the following linked and interdependent project components:

    + Develop a new zoning overlay district for downtown, as well as undeveloped, outlying areas of the Cities;

    + Redesign the Fairfax Boulevard-George Street Corridor into a "complete street" with green infrastructure, to promote a better transportation route for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit;

    + Design a new regional Charles Washington Commuter Center in downtown Charles Town that will facilitate access to regional rail and bus transit systems for Ranson, Charles Town and Jefferson County; and

    + Create a master plan for downtown Ranson that spurs job growth and economic development in former dilapidated manufacturing sites.

    It all starts with an opening presentation on September 8.

    “We couldn’t be happier about the way this process is shaping up,” says Ranson Mayor A. David Hamill. “It is our goal to continue evolving Ranson into a vibrant community where residents can live, work, and recreate within cohesive neighborhoods. Exciting things are beginning to happen, and I expect the next 12 to 18 months to be even more exciting as the real work begins to plan our future.”

    Come, and lend your voice. There'll be all kinds of ways to participate, even for events you can't attend in person. So don't miss it.





  • FILES AVAILABLE
    Review adopted files of our Comp Plan update and new zoning option here. FEDERAL GRANTS
    Moving forward, whenever appropriate, you'll see our news posts identify the respective source(s) of project funding with one or more of these icons:

    This video explains the grants, along with the process overall.
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