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Redesigning Shepherdstown

January 20, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - Shepherdstown has a reputation for being a lively town, where issues are thoroughly debated and sometimes to the extreme, according to some residents.

So it should come as no surprise that the town's idea to start a more than $1 million streetscape project also would get a thorough examination.

Some have questioned the plan to tear out existing trees downtown as part of the plan, and at least one letter has been circulated in town questioning the project.

David Hark stopped momentarily while walking along Princess Street and pondered in-depth about the undertaking.

"Is this the biggest problem we have?" Hark asked.

The issues weighing on Hark's mind were the rapid annexation of towns including Ranson, W.Va., and the influx of people into the area.

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"It's changing the entire texture and the feel of the area," Hark said.

Complicating matters are issues such as spiraling property taxes, said Hark, who has lived in the area since the 1970s.

Crumbling sidewalks have been a big concern, and the project will involve replacing sections of sidewalk that need replacement, town officials have said. Sections of sidewalk that are about 2 feet higher than German Street and considered dangerous also will be redesigned, town officials said.

Red bricks that currently make up some of the sidewalks will be reused if possible, and paver crosswalks will be installed along German Street in an attempt to slow traffic, according to the plan.

The volume of traffic and the speed at which some cars travel has been a growing concern.

New streetlights will be the same type of fixtures used to renovate a train station in town, and landscaping will get a new look.

Drawing on historical photographs that show trees planted at the edges of downtown streets, the plan involves planting new trees along German Street.

Different sketches of the plan show groupings of trees at intersections along German Street.

Hank Willard, chairman of a town streetscape committee, said he has been told by experts that the trees currently along German Street were not good choices for the town, were not planted properly and do not have a bright future.

Still, the idea sometimes can be a hard sell.

Opinions abound

Shepherd College students Stephanie Dorsey and Teresa Hawkins were chatting outside the Carriage House Cafe along Princess Street last Wednesday.

They weren't as interested in redesigning downtown as much as they were in getting better drinking water.

Dorsey and Hawkins said they have been concerned about consuming the town's water after receiving letters from officials who have talked about levels of a material that have been detected in it.

"I filter my water more than twice before I drink it," Dorsey said.

Both women said they like the town the way it is now, and Dorsey said she thinks the way that roots from trees downtown have pushed up sidewalks is "kinda neat."

Joe and Linda Keyser, on the other hand, like the idea of giving German Street - the main drag - a new look.

Joe Keyser said officials in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., undertook a large-scale renovation, and he liked how it turned out.

If towns do not take care of their infrastructure, "then things start closing down and people stop coming," he said.

Although the Keysers live in Arlington, Va., they have been house hunting in Shepherdstown and hope to move here.

Lloyd and Elaine Ulrich were taking a stroll along German Street after a several-year hiatus from visiting the town. The couple said they used to come to Shepherdstown regularly to celebrate Elaine's birthday, but they had been visiting other areas in recent years.

They were asked about improving features in town such as new sidewalks and new lighting.

"I guess it would be nice, though it might hurt the small-town charm," Lloyd Ulrich said.

Sheila Norton was working in The German Street Coffee & Candlery when a reporter's question about the streetscape project brought a skeptical response.

Norton said she has seen how streetscape projects have caused problems in town, including interrupting business.

Norton did not see any reason to change Shepherdstown.

"You already have charm," she said.

The $1.1 million project is being funded through a combination of federal Transportation Enhancement Grant funding and slot machine revenue from Charles Town (W.Va.) Races & Slots, Willard said.

Construction could begin in late spring or early summer, and could be complete by this time next year, Willard said.

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