An overview of the blueprint for the next 22 years of city construction.
Downtown is looking to the future as the Lynchburg City Council adopted the 2040 Plan, a document tracking growth, development and renovations around the city for the next 22 years, on Nov. 13.
Some of the biggest renovations would be the conversion of Church and Main streets to two-way roads, improving pedestrian walkability of local bridges and building a new dog park. The total estimated cost of the plan is $15 million for priority projects alone.
City planner Rachel Frischeisen said the plan is a continuation of the plan adopted in 2001, which is widely credited with the recent revitalization of downtown.
“That plan kind of kicked off the… ‘Rising from the ashes of downtown Lynchburg,’” Frischeisen said. “After the 2001 plan is when we really started putting in public investment and seeing private investment follow that, but prior to that there was a high rate of vacancy. When 5 o’clock hit everyone was out pretty much. Roll up the carpet.”
The plan, which has been in the works for a little over a year, is detailed in a 265-page document released by the city. The document is filled with surveys, diagrams and concepts for new structures and concepts proposed by the city planning committee.
According to the plan, as of 2017 Lynchburg’s downtown has over 430 businesses and has added more than 900 residential units, collecting $12.7 million in revenue.
“Building on that success, this plan sets higher goals and integrates public engagement and previous planning efforts to chart growth and prosperity for the next 20 years,” the plan reads.
Additional changes to the city would be the implementation of a trolley system to shuttle residents around the city, adding paid parking and improving the walkability of downtown.
“The plan establishes a vision,” city planner and project lead Tom Martin said. “There’s no one magic thing that is going to automatically make downtown this great wonderful place. We believe it already is, but it’s kind of a matrix. Do these things and each one builds on the other and it moves downtown forward.”
With growth comes the need to renovate and make sure the city can sustain the growth it is experiencing. As of now, the city has 11 active construction projects.
This has caused concern with some citizens who think it is too early to be implementing such a radical plan. Martin disagrees.
“Water, sewer, bridges, road networks, all those things are core services that cities provide,” Martin said. “So doesn’t it make sense that if you’re in there doing those type of projects where the streets are going to be shut down anyways, at the same time you do things that are going to benefit the neighborhood and the city as a whole.”
Even though the plan has been adopted, funding has yet to be secured. The project will be in competition with all other city construction projects for funding, putting a further financial strain on the city.
City council member Jeff Helgeson, the only member to vote against the plan’s adoption in the final tally, said the total costs could come between $50 and $60 million.
“A plan is only as good as the resources to implement it,” Helgeson said. “If we have no resources to implement it there’s not going to be any change. The only change that is pushed for on here is changing traffic flow on Main Street and Church Street from one-way to two-way.”
The street changes, which will be the first part of the plan to be implemented, reverses the city’s decision in 1954 to implement one-way roads.
At the time, the city council determined downtown was too congested, so the one-way streets would get people out of downtown. The hope is the two-way streets will get travelers to slow down and stay downtown longer.
“As planners and professionals in this environment we firmly believe that two-way traffic will be beneficial,” Martin said. “Improving circulation patterns downtown and improving visibility for businesses, and also if you slow the traffic down it improves the walkability, it actually makes it safer.”
Helgeson does not agree and says the money should be put toward other city projects like fixing the roads, updating bridges and a new police building.
Helgeson is also critical of the emphasis on residential use of downtown. The plan emphasizes the walkability of downtown, but Helgeson said this diminishes parking and accessibility for local businesses.
“You want it to be easy for people who do not live downtown to be able to spend money downtown,” Helgeson said. “We want it easy for people who live in the counties to be able to come downtown and this does the opposite because it gets rid of parking and it changes the flow of traffic.”
Regardless, the plan is projected to start construction next year. Frischeisen said those in favor of the plan have shown a lot of enthusiasm.
“I think the important thing here to remember is this is a 20-year document,” Frischeisen said. “We’ve had a lot of success, and we need to look at what is going to keep that success going.”