Land Use and Community Character Goal 3
Downtown Shepherdstown will retain and strengthen its role as the economic, social and cultural hub of the community.
3.1 Review Downtown Zoning Regulations
STRATEGY: Review regulations of the RC District to ensure that the uses permitted in that district are defined broadly enough to accommodate the evolution of economic activity in downtown Shepherdstown and the associated development regulations can accommodate development and redevelopment that is compatible with the character and historic precedents found in the downtown built environment.
JUSTIFICATION: As the de facto “downtown” zoning district, the town’s RC district plays a significant role in defining the character of the core of the community and ensuring the overall economic vitality of the town. Given its important role, the RC district should accommodate a wide range of uses that are compatible with the character of downtown Shepherdstown and accommodate changes in economic activity as the types of businesses that want to locate downtown evolves over time.
As a second part to this strategy, it is also vital to ensure that the physical limitations imposed on the development or redevelopment of property within the district maintains the historic character of the area and respects existing development precedents. While the historic district guidelines shape the aesthetic appearance of buildings, the basic zoning requirements of the district shape the form of development, how buildings relate to each other and how they address the public realm. Observations from the current regulations in the RC district reveal that there are two provisions that may prevent newly developed buildings (or the redevelopment of existing buildings) in the district from maintaining the existing downtown character. First, the requirement for a minimum 5 foot side yard is antithetical to the current form of development in the district, which is comprised primarily of buildings that are built immediately adjacent to each other, extending the width of the property on which they are situated. Second is the limitation both on the number of allowed stories (2) and height (30 feet) in the district. While a majority of the buildings do not exceed these limitations, there are at least five significant historic buildings in the RC district that do not conform to these requirements, and whose loss would alter the character of downtown if they were not allowed to be reconstructed if damaged by fire or other means.
3.2 Implement Downtown Revitalization Incentives
STRATEGY: Explore options for incentivizing the rehabilitation and restoration of commercial structures in the downtown area to encourage the productive use of existing structures, extend their structural life and maintain an aesthetically appealing appearance.
JUSTIFICATION: Maintaining a high quality aesthetic appearance in the downtown area is critical to maintaining property values and encouraging positive economic activity through tourism and business development. Couple with a strong property maintenance code, financial or other incentives for property owners to enhance their buildings will help prevent deterioration of the aesthetic quality of the area. And while financial resources for such a program are likely limited, basic repairs, improvements or maintenance can go a long way toward enhancing the appearance of a building. Therefore, even a limited cost matching façade grant program can provide a significant multiplier effect when coupled with private resources and property owner initiative.
3.3 Adopt a Nonresidential Property Maintenance Code
STRATEGY: Adopt and enforce a property maintenance code for nonresidential properties that includes standards for maintaining appearance, safety, structural integrity and sanitary conditions. Include enforcement mechanisms that allow the Town to require property owners to abate violations, and, in cases of a property owner’s failure to act, gives the Town the ability to abate the violation at the owner’s expense.
JUSTIFICATION: Ensuring that the town has the ability to assert itself in situations where a property owner is either unwilling or unable to act to maintain the appearance, safety or integrity of a commercial structure is critical to maintaining a positive aesthetic appearance and guaranteeing that buildings do not deteriorate to the point at which they must be demolished.
3.4 Prepare a Downtown Retail Market Analysis
STRATEGY: Prepare a retail market analysis to identify opportunities for the expansion of the downtown retail sector and work with property owners, downtown business owners and developers to encourage the establishment of new businesses to fill any identified gaps in the market.
JUSTIFICATION: Knowing the quantitative aspects of the downtown retail market will help both the town, as well as both prospective and current downtown business owners identify gaps in the retail market and understand what types of products or services will be most likely to result in growth and sustainment of their business venture. A well prepared analysis of conditions and trends is also a strong marketing tool If it is made freely and publicaly available to business owners that are considering starting a business in the downtown area. An analysis of the market will also help to rationalize expectations about the types of businesses that can be successful downtown.
3.5 Plan for the Relocation or Burial of Downtown Overhead Utilities
STRATEGY: Develop and implement a plan to relocate or bury overhead utilities to improve downtown’s aesthetic appearance. It is recommended that a phased approach to this be taken, with the highest visibility areas of downtown Shepherdstown given the highest priority for action.
JUSTIFICATION: While the most obvious benefit related to the relocation or burial of overhead utility lines is aesthetic, there is also a public safety aspect to removing overhead utilities in the downtown area. This is relating to the ability of emergency responders to gain quick access to downtown buildings. Employing an aerial master stream on a fire or utilizing an aerial ladder for accessing an upper story window or gaining access to a roof to provide ventilation can be difficult and hazardous to emergency responders in the presence of overhead utilities. Their presence would, in most cases, likely require the use of ground ladders to access upper stories and roofs, delaying response times to save lives and property. The depth of most downtown lots also prevents employing more effective tactics from the rear of buildings given both the distances involved.
3.6 Improve Public Parking Availability
STRATEGY: Work to ensure that adequate public parking is available to foster a business-friendly climate that allows residents to conduct business with merchants and visitors to explore local shops.
JUSTIFICATION: Ensuring parking availability is critical to the success of downtown businesses. While the existing metering program and time limits help to generate turnover, the limited number of available spaces in close proximity to downtown businesses can be a deterrent to casual business transactions with downtown merchants, whether coming from residents who may not want the hassle of finding a space or tourists who may be deterred by the time limits. Increasing the supply of public parking, particularly off-street parking, will help to ensure that there are more opportunities for impulsive stops at downtown businesses, which could in turn have the effect of increasing economic activity.