Office to Residential Conversion Symposium

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Public Gives Input On Vision For Downtown Fredericksburg (

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With heads bent over maps of downtown Fredericksburg, residents on Tuesday used colored dots to indicate where they live, work, shop—and where they think there are problems.

The exercise was one of two that Streetsense, a Washington design and strategy firm, conducted that evening at the old Planters Bank Building. The goal was to help the company get a better feel for what types of development the city should consider for what’s officially known as Small Planning Area 7 as it prepares for Fredericksburg’s 300th anniversary in 2028.

“It’s important for us to know how you view your place,” said Colin Greene, Streetsense’s senior director of planning.

The roughly 75 participants were then divided into three groups to discuss what they like about historic downtown and its surrounding residential neighborhoods, and what could be improved. Mike Craig, the city’s senior planner, cautioned that they weren’t to rehash the city’s recent parking study or plans for Riverfront Park, but could talk about transportation issues, the whole nature of the city’s riverfront, and anything else.

Several people at one table complained that some of downtown’s two-way streets are too narrow for cars to pass each other easily when there are cars parked along both sides of the street. At another table, people said the area needs a grocery store and that power lines should be buried. Recommendations at the third table included making downtown bike friendly and getting owners to improve their property.

Participants also got to affix big blue dots to sheets of paper taped to the wall to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with a number of statements. They included whether the city could benefit from having increased business and employment—most agreed—to whether the infrastructure for cyclists is suitable for those who use it—more disagreed than agreed.

Streetsense will seek additional input through a survey that will be posted on the city’s website,, soon. It will hold a charrette, or workshop, about Area 7 from Oct. 8 to 12 in the Planters Bank Building, 1001 Princess Anne St. The company will work with city officials, property owners and several other companies it has brought in to help to brainstorm and envision the future of a community.

A schedule of meetings will be posted on the city’s website, They will be open to the public, and people are invited to visit, comment and participate in the visioning process. Comments can also be emailed to

Streetsense will refine all the information by late fall, and present a report to the city in early 2019.

The city hired Streetsense to help it make decisions that will shape the future of all 10 small planning areas in its comprehensive plan. the Bethesda, Md. firm has already helped the city craft plans for Area 6, which focuses on the portion of the city north of the Rappahannock Canal and includes Princess Anne Street, U.S. 1 and Fall Hill Avenue; and Area 3, which includes the State Route 3 corridor from Interstate 95 to the east end of commercial activity at Westwood Drive.

The entire project is expected to take three years.

Heather Arnold, Streetsense’s director of research and analysis, shared some of her findings with City Council during a work session Tuesday afternoon and the group at bank building that evening. Her market study found that a third of employed city residents work either at Mary Washington Hospital or in the hospital sector.

That rang alarm bells at first because it would mean Fredericksburg was largely a one-company town, she said. Fortunately, that is “the right company,” she added, because one out of every four jobs is expected to be in the health care sector nationwide.

In the retail sector, Arnold found that 22 percent of available space is either vacant or underutilized. The rate is more than double—54 percent—in Central Park and Celebrate Virginia South.

Beth Hesler, Streetsense’s senior project designer, said that she was impressed by the variety of people who turned out for Tuesday evening’s meeting. They included residents, business owners, landlords and members of the city’s Architectural Review Board.

“That’s good,” she said. “You want diversity in your input.”

Some of them got in a lively discussion over whether the city’s riverfront should look natural or manicured when they split up into groups, Hesler said, but she found that all were united in their love downtown’s historic core.

“It’s a cherished part of the city,” she said, “and they feel it needs to be treated as such.”


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