Community meeting examines how Downtown Chipley could be enhanced

David Baker with engineering firm Fisher Arnold discusses how aspects of Downtown Chipley could be augmented to draw people to the area during a community meeting on a redevelopment plan for the area at City Hall on April 11. Back row from left: City Councilmembers Cheryl McCall, Kevin Russell, and Linda Cain look on. [COLLIN BREAUX | The News]

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A public meeting held at Chipley City Hall on April 11 went over how Downtown Chipley’s look, features, and overall vibe can be developed to add to the area’s appeal and make it more pedestrian and visitor-friendly.

David Baker with engineering firm Fisher Arnold led the meeting, which was attended by downtown business owners, residents, members of the City Council, and other interested parties.

“In looking at the downtown area, the initial drive-through and Google research and so forth, we noticed there are large areas that don’t have parking islands or is void of some type of vegetation,” Baker said. “Looking at long-term planning on that, if we do introduce some of that in our master plan, that helps with some of the aesthetics but can also help with some of the stormwater runoff. It provides shade opportunities.”

Baker also said he noticed, if there was a large event in the depot area such as with music or a farmer’s market, there may not be adequate parking.

“We really probably need to look at some areas where we can gain some parking for these events,” Baker said.

Intersections can be emphasized with larger crosswalks and colored paving, he said.

Discussions about potential downtown revitalization is part of a grant for development of the area, specifically the Chipley Redevelopment Agency district. Washington County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Heather Lopez mentioned the grant at the start of the meeting and said they hired Fisher Arnold to “complete those grant deliverables.” 

Landscaping can be retooled to give more visibility to businesses, Baker said.

“Are there opportunities to provide pocket park areas for people to gather and congregate in the downtown, around the businesses, and create people spaces?” he said. “How can we accomplish that?”

The depot can be enhanced and utilized in other portions of downtown, according to Baker.

“We have the tin roof, the metal roof,” he said. “You have the architectural details, the fasteners, the connection, the signage, the period.”

Fisher Arnold is looking at Chipley’s zoning ordinances. Baker said some land uses could be what’s called “a vertical mixed use” where there are condominiums and a mix of residential, office, and retail use.

He further said there could be a “mix of housing types” and not just single-family residences.

“One of the things, too, in defining the downtown area, we’d like to see if we can introduce some gateways into the downtown so you know when you’re entering this facility,” Baker said. “Such as west off of Jackson on Highway 90 or coming in from the south on 77. I’m not necessarily a fan of and I don’t think FDOT would be a fan of having something over the highway but this could be done with something simple, such as the signage, increased landscaping.”

The gateway “also sets the standard for the development that would occur,” he said.

Downtown Chipley being at the intersection of two major highways can be played up, Baker said.

“One of the interesting things about the downtown is there is a good mix of businesses. It’s not just limited to coffee shops and things like that,” he said. “It’s a variety–grocery store, offices, shops and restaurants and things like that. Not a lot of vacancies. That is unique because a lot of municipalities’ downtowns are struggling. That is something the city has to offer at this point.”

Audience members chimed in with suggestions and observations. Mike Johnson with Our Desert Island said lighting could be improved since it is poor at night and the area has a lot of walkers. 

“One of the things we mentioned when we first started talking about the process was the concept of music downtown–having permanent fixtures that play music on a regular basis throughout town, whether it’s a festival or not a festival, because people are drawn to music,” City Councilmember Kevin Russell said. “If you’ve got music playing, it fosters an idea of energy and fun.”

Making downtown accessible for disabled people should also be a “big part” of the redevelopment plan, Russell said.

Resident Larry Zezula said Chipley and the railroad’s historical aspect should be preserved. 

Business owner Gerald Lenz said the shrubbery and lighting needs to be addressed.

“I feel like this town needs to work on walkability,” Lenz said. “That’s the key for all of us to survive.”

Other audience suggestions include desires for more and wider bike lanes, as well as a movie theater, putt-putt golf, or some form of entertainment.

Further steps are planned for the redevelopment master plan: a public meeting for concepts on May 7, a public meeting for final concepts and the plan on June 6, a presentation to the City Council on July 9, and then final deliverables on July 15.