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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 →

Lead-Off by Listening: Community, consultants explore transportation topics

Four meetings, designed to drill down more deeply into hopes and concerns surrounding issues at the heart of the weeklong Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected workshop, took up most of the day on Friday, September 9.

Members of the consulting team led discussions about the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a more vibrant gateway into Ranson; about the conversion of historic Charles Washington Hall into a commuter center; about the regional economy; and about real estate development in keeping with a new zoning approach.

On Saturday, the focused topic session will concentrate on how the proposed change in the regulatory framework affects Old Town, followed by a tour of Charles Washington Hall to hear plans for its rehabilitation and reuse. Go here to see the complete schedule of events throughout the week.

Because the real experts on Ranson and Charles Town are the people who live and work here, the consulting designers and planners use these meetings to fill in gaps in the team’s understanding. What they hear informs the evolution of ideas and plans throughout the next five days. By the concluding presentation on September 14, the team will have shaped concepts according to progressive feedback from the community and the staffs of the two towns.

In this post, we talk about Friday’s exploration of a key transportation component of the workshop — the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a vibrant, welcoming corridor. In succeeding reports, we’ll deal with the other two broad categories of work, rehabilitation of former industrial sites and the drafting of a new regulatory approach to enable growth in keeping with the Ranson/Charles Town character.

Rick Hall, president of Hall Planning & Engineering, led the Friday workshop sessions on transportation. The core mission, said Hall, is to recover the principal missing component of community mobility: walkability. After more than a half-century of “motordom,” an era that privileged travel by private automobile over all other modes, said Hall, beginning in the 1980s, a counter-movement began to reclaim some of the territory for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“And we’re not talking about merely introducing the possibility of walking,” said Hall. “We want to increase the probability of walking.”

Making walking a viable alternative enlivens neighborhoods for shopping and civic functions. It supports healthier lifestyles, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances a community’s affordability. If you live in a neighborhood where you can walk to most daily needs, you might be able to get along with at least one less car, freeing up as much as $9,000 a year that goes to owning and maintaining a vehicle for investment in food, housing or other family needs.

The conversion of a thoroughfare like the current version of Fairfax Boulevard into something more than a fast way out of town creates the opportunity for all those civic and economic advantages. It gives folks a reason to hang around, explore the town and support local businesses.

Most citizen questions were about safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, an indication that taming the thoroughfare was already on folks’ minds. Hall explained how good design — narrow lane widths, on-street parking, plantings in the planned median strip — works on the psychology of motorists. Recognizing the need to be alert to their surroundings, as opposed to zoning out on the open highway, motorists automatically slow down.

A thoroughfare designed for 25 mph max speeds, as opposed to highway speeds, allows bicyclists to move with auto traffic without dedicated lanes. And pedestrians, separated from the auto lanes by parked cars, feel an added sense of security. Hall promises that his team’s design for the new boulevard will have sidewalks on both sides.

To get a sense of how all this fits with the goals of the workshop and the goals of the federal agencies funding the projects, check out the overview column on the right and the posts preceding this one.

If you want to catch up on progress so far in the process, set aside some time to come to the Sunday show-and-tell session at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Hall. The design team will display their evolving plans and rough sketches of ideas for community critique. Feedback from that event will be used to fine tune work for the concluding presentation on September 14.

Come and take part in person, or just follow along on these web pages. We’re posting every day through the workshop week.

Posted in Workshop Weekwith No Comments →

Revitalizing Fairfax Boulevard: A key goal for September workshop

If there’s one dramatic indication of how Ranson and Charles Town intend to guide their futures, it will be the design, during the September 8-14 collaborative workshop, of a $1.4 million “Green Corridor” along Fairfax Boulevard and George Street.

The Fairfax Boulevard / George Street project area, to be redesigned during the Ranson Renewed workshop in September. Click for larger view.


The planning is made possible through a combination of federal grants, signaling the national interest in the kind of approach Ranson and Charles Town are exploring. Read about the grants and their objectives here.

It’s an ambitious enough initiative to serve — say Ranson/Charles Town leaders who proposed the idea — “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.”

The focus of the corridor design will be Fairfax Boulevard from 12th Ave. to the north and Washington Street to the south. What the design team will be doing, says transportation engineer Rick Hall, is “reaching back to an era in which boulevards were for walking, biking and transit, or walkability for short,” between shops, residences and offices.

“Then,” says Hall, “we’ll blend that 1900s-era walkability with mobility options of the 21st century, including automobiles, bikes and transit.”

The result, in the parlance of contemporary planning, will be a “complete street,” maximizing access to commercial and residential uses along the boulevard and ways of getting there. Expanding mobility choices reduces dependence upon private automobiles alone and the greenhouse gas emissions that come with car-only transportation. That’s where some of the “green” in the “Green Corridor” comes in.

Hall and fellow designers will also be addressing a second component on the transportation menu, the creation of a regional Commuter Center in historic Charles Town. The Center will be a convenient place to walk or bike to from downtown, to arrive by bus or to be dropped off by car. “You grab a Danish and a cup of coffee and catch a bus to the regional rail connection,” says Hall. “Then, you’re off to Washington or Baltimore. This will enhance the commute,” which is already a daily activity for many folks who live in the Ranson/Charles Town area.

The Green Corridor/Commuter Center design work will be combined with the drafting of a new regulatory plan to guide growth in harmony with what people love about the region and with what draws them to the area to live and to start businesses.

You can read all about these goals in the column to the immediate right and check out opportunities to participate in the idea-testing and refining that will take place during workshop week here.

Join us in person when you can. And by all means, follow the workshop’s progress here on this website. From September 9 to September 15, we’ll be posting the latest news, interviews and design ideas every day.

Posted in Preparationwith 2 Comments →

The Perfect Prelude:
Aug. 2 workshop a big hit

When acting Ranson city manager Andy Blake got the feeling that the scheduled August 2 workshop was going to attract more folks than everyone originally thought, he decided to switch the venue from the community room at City Hall to the larger Independent Fire Hall a block away.

Good thing. More than 50 people signed in on Tuesday night, listened to Ranson’s consulting team explain the process ahead and took part in an exercise to evaluate how the city currently devotes space to people, cars, buildings and green space.

For many, it was an eye-opener, especially when it comes to the percentage of Ranson and environs set aside to accommodate automobiles. Is the people/car balance out of whack? And if it is, how do you rebalance the space?

The balance question is at the heart of the process that will reach its climax September 8-14 when the City of Ranson and its consultants host a weeklong, hands-on workshop to shape a regulatory plan to guide future growth in ways that match citizens’ goals and long-range economic opportunity. It’s a very public enterprise. In fact, public participation will be a key to its success in the short-term and its impact over the long haul.

Read all about the goals of the September workshop in the column to the immediate right. And soon, you can check back to this website to see the day-by-day schedule of meetings and work sessions for the week. Workshop components are being tweaked to respond to what the team heard during the August 2 prep event.

This ambitious effort is made possible by Ranson’s aggressive pursuit of resources from a new federal agency partnership to encourage exactly the sort of comprehensive planning the City is undertaking. In the video below, acting city manager Andy Blake explains how grants are being combined to advance the City’s goals.

What was clear on August 2 is that impacts of the new regulatory approach and transportation planning will not be limited to Ranson alone. Officials from Jefferson County and Charles Town attended the meeting and took part in the community conversation with an eye to adapting ideas — or at least supporting ideas — generated during the September workshop week and beyond. Charles Town city planner Katie See explains the city-to-city connection in the video below.

Put the September 8-14 workshop on your calendars, tell your friends and watch these web pages for updates leading into the event.

We’d love to hear your comments and questions. Use the space below or contact City staff directly by going to the Contact tab in the toolbar above.

Posted in Preparationwith 3 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.

    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.

    June 2016
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