Vision for Downtown Chipley further discussed during community meeting

Discussions are underway about how to possibly modify Downtown Chipley to enhance its appearance and draw people to the area. [COLLIN BREAUX | The News]

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Ways to enhance Downtown Chipley and entice visitors and pedestrians to the area continued to be discussed during a community meeting on Tuesday, May 7, at Chipley City Hall.

The meeting was part of a downtown master redevelopment plan initiated by the Chipley Redevelopment Agency. Engineering firm Fisher Arnold has been hired by the CRA as a consultant for the project and led Tuesday’s meeting, which was intended to go over proposed modifications and get community feedback.

“In looking at the master plan, one of the things we wanted to do was create a hierarchy of crosswalk systems,” David Baker with Fisher Arnold said while displaying schematics. “One, kind of a major intersection–and this is Highway 77 and Church Street–where we have pedestrian-designated areas made up of brick pavers or concrete, and then the interior portion of the intersection would be a different pattern, color, and this would bring a little more emphasis to the major intersections and let you know this is an important crossroads for the community.”

The secondary crosswalks are roads or intersections that cross the railroad northward or Jackson Avenue southward.

“It would have the designated crosswalks and patterns, brick pavers and so forth, but the interior portion of the intersection would remain as asphalt,” Baker said. 

Baker said another aspect they are looking at, based on observing the area and community feedback, is the removal and replacement of landscaping in front of some businesses.

“The businesses had mentioned it obstructs some views into their businesses and advertising,” Baker said. “This also would make it a little more inviting for people on the street getting out of their cars–easier access and visibility to the businesses.”

Another aspect discussed during a prior community meeting in April was making the whole area more walkable so people on Jackson Avenue could interact with the depot area.

“In our analysis, we noticed the sidewalks kind of stop as you’re coming south on 7th Street, right there at the depot,” Baker said. 

Pedestrian plazas were included in plan renderings, as well as benches. 

“Also, some of our recommendations is that any redevelopment provide definition between the street, sidewalk, and parking,” Baker said. “As you can see (with current conditions), it’s kind of a free-for-all. You can’t really tell the street or parking. What we’re proposing is that if you have either a shoulder or curb or grass strip, sidewalk, then landscape area, it sets up some definition and aesthetics that can be utilized throughout the whole CRA area.”

Enhanced lighting and bringing bicycles to the area has also been suggested.

“Some of the positives the city’s already done is have a standard for the stop signs, traffic signs, light fixtures,” Baker said. “We would recommend any light or stop signs or anything like that that did not have a decorative pole or feature be incorporated into any improvements to have the cohesiveness of this CRA area–not just in the commercial zones but also in the residential portions.”

Baker said there could also be a way to capitalize on the northeastern area near the electrical substation and future industrial land use.

“I understand the need for having the economic base for industrial but I think there is a way we can capitalize off it by providing a retail node kind of in that area,” Baker said. “We can provide places for employees to come grab a snack for lunch or grab a cup of coffee before going to work or things like that.”

Steps should be taken to minimize “any impact to that industrial traffic in that area” so there are not trucks or deliveries or an influx of employees driving down narrower streets, Baker said.

When looking at how to implement these wishes, Baker said the relatively inexpensive proposals such as business landscaping could be done by service organizations such as Scouting America or Kiwanis Club. Major projects would have to involve capital funding or grants, such as the gateways, lighting, and intersection improvements.

“This is a project that’s beneficial to everyone, so no idea is out there,” Baker said when asking for suggestions and feedback. 

City Councilmember Kevin Russell said overgrown shrubbery and maintenance was mentioned but while the amount of shrubs and trees might be tripled, the Chipley Public Works Department is currently limited in terms of manpower.

“As far as the maintenance plan, I get making a maintenance plan but when you’re already making a plan that’s going to cause four times the amount of work on a small public works department, are we going to have an in-house arborist just to maintain the trees that we’re planting?” Russell said.

Baker said they are proposing lower ground cover, especially with shrubs, that will not require a lot of maintenance.

Councilmember Linda Cain brought up how that could affect downtown Christmas decorations, which the area gets a “lot of compliments on.”

“That’s when you come up with a new idea for Christmas,” Russell said. “Are we worried about four weeks out of the year or we worried about 365 days for downtown?”

Russell said he is concerned about elderly and handicapped people being able to access downtown when it comes to the general redevelopment plan.

An audience question asked about public restrooms being available downtown.

“That is a great idea,” Baker said. “We have not included that in the master plan as of yet but we can look for ways to incorporate that.”

Russell said that “definitely” needs to be incorporated. 

Further steps are planned for the redevelopment master plan: 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.