Vision Plan now awaits final vote at public hearing

The Mebane Planning Board unanimously approved the city’s Downtown Vision Plan on Wednesday, November 14.

Lead Vision Plan developer Allison Platt of Rivers & Associates, LLC presented the draft to the Board.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working in your community,” she said. “This Plan… builds on what is probably your greatest strength which is the core area of historic downtown, which is beautiful and pretty healthy.”

The Plan is the product of ten months of work and community-wide meetings led by Platt in coordination with city leaders.

The more than 100-page document outlines guidelines for preservation and future development as well as improvement suggestions for the historic downtown district. It features five chapters that analyze downtown strengths and weaknesses as well as proposes concepts that can build upon downtown’s assets and address needs.

“One of the most important elements of it is historic preservation,” Platt explained. “It’s to preserve what makes your community unique.”

Throughout the course of community meetings and resident input, the biggest issue discussed was parking.

“We’re showing that area that is now a gravel lot being converted to public parking essentially and maximizing parking other places over time,” Platt said. “In the improvements on Clay Street, we went through a lot of back-and-forth. I did some alternatives… most people favored removing one row of parking and widening the sidewalks from the current ten to about 14 (feet). Now whether that’s going to happen or not is going to be something that you’ll see over time, but people are very jealous of parking, but – on the other hand – in many places your sidewalks are narrow enough that it’s impossible for two people to pass each other on the sidewalk without kind of going sideways. Eventually that will be something that you might want to consider.”

Platt also touched on the need for handicap parking and improved accessibility downtown.

“Handicap access is very important. Many people said at the meetings that there wasn’t enough handicap parking downtown. There wasn’t enough access. The Plan actually shows areas right off Clay Street on both ends that main center block where there are four or five handicap spaces to give direct access onto Clay Street and go in the downtown from there,” she explained. “You need adequate parking, obviously. People always think – I hate to say it – but people always say there’s not enough parking, even if nobody’s downtown… You can do things to make parking available. If it’s worth coming downtown, then people will walk a little further. When people walk a little further, they may discover something they hadn’t expected to discover on the way to where they’re going.”

The Plan also suggested removing the overhead power lines located in the downtown district, particularly along Clay Street.

“One of the big detractions I noticed first when I came here is how overwhelming the overhead lines are,” said Platt. “I think when people come here it’s pretty noticeable. So if they were gone, there’s a lot of things that you could do to enhance the feeling of being downtown. At the same time, what happens in old downtowns is the infrastructure is really old. So, at some point you’re going to need to modernize it anyway. You don’t want to inconvenience the merchants any more than you need to, so if you did both at the same time, it would be more cost-effective, take less time and cause less problems.”

Platt suggested relocating the overhead lines one block south to Ruffin Street. She was scheduled to meet with Duke Energy officials regarding the possibility the next day.

The Vision Plan also advised removing the north side row of parking to along Center Street to allow for a bike lane.

“Cy (Stober, City Development Director) has talked with the folks from the railroad and NCDOT and they’re pretty much good with it because it’s a safety issue and because, I think, the railroad doesn’t really like having cars parked on that side of the road anyway,” said Platt. “There is funding, actually, for bike trails so that could be something you might be able to make happen sooner rather than later.”

Platt stressed the fact that the Plan was purely conceptual and would require approval and financial investment to move any project forward.

“It always relies on a willing buyer and seller, and nobody is going to say to anybody that is there now that they have to leave,” she explained. “People get frightened by a Plan like this because it looks so different, but change is going to come one way or another and the question is what kind of change do you want it to be… In fact, none of this changes unless the city has leadership about wanting it to happen in the right way or in the appropriate period of time, because if nobody is interested in doing these things, they won’t happen.”

She continued, “Mebane is an excellent place to invest. Given that, that maybe makes it more important to control the form of the buildings that are going to go in. If it’s ok, for instance, if you have a Dairy Queen on Center but you don’t want more Dairy Queens in the future – you’re not saying it’s not good to have a Dairy Queen, but you’re saying if you have something else there, maybe you want it to be bigger or be closer to the road, maybe you want the parking to be more defined. It doesn’t affect the Dairy Queen that’s there now, but it does have an affect, over time, for what shows up there. And if you demand quality, then – generally speaking – you’re going to attract more quality. If you don’t have any standards, people are going to wonder if you’ll build this really nice apartment building and get something next to it that may detract from it.”

There were no public comments for or against the Vision Plan during the meeting.

The Plan is estimated to cost roughly $10 million for full implementation of every project, aside from relocating the power lines. The Plan is also estimated to be done incrementally over a ten-year period.

The Planning Board unanimously approved the Vision Plan, 7-0, and thanked Platt and her coworkers for their hard work on the draft.

Over the past month, the City Planning Department has encouraged residents to review and comment on the Plan, which is available in the Community Spotlight section of the city’s website as well as on the dedicated website www.mebanebydesign.net.

The public is asked to provide any questions or comments via the project website or the City’s official Facebook page or by e-mailing dtplan@cityofmebane.com.

The Downtown Vision Plan will go before the City Council for a final vote on Monday, December 3. The topic is a public hearing and the meeting is set to begin at 6:00 p.m.

The Enterprise has been covering the development of the Mebane Downtown Vision Plan since its first mention in August of 2017 and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. For more information on topic, visit www.mebaneenterprise.com.