By Abigail Summerville
Lexington residents want sidewalks that are wheelchair and stroller friendly, high-speed Internet and job options outside the city’s two universities.
That’s the message city leaders heard at last week’s kickoff workshop for updating the Comprehensive Plan, a roadmap for Lexington’s future that covers everything from land use to transportation.
“What are your hopes, dreams and aspirations for Lexington?” consultant Mike Chandler asked more than 100 people who attended the workshop.
Sallie Sebrell, a Lexington resident who owns property downtown, said the downtown area needs some major improvements.
“On Jefferson Street you can’t get a wheelchair or stroller down the narrow sidewalk because of the poles. We have to put those underground,” she said.
The city has hired The Berkley Group, a Bridgewater consulting firm, to oversee the update of the plan.
Sebrell also said vacant downtown buildings and second and third floors of retail stores need to be filled. Other citizens said downtown needs more crosswalks and better lighting and signs.
Carroll Weatherman, who rents out a house in Lexington, said the plan should include initiatives that will attract new residents to the city.
“You have to create jobs and get businesses to come here. Preserve Lexington as it is, but also draw in young families. It’s that balance you have to consider,” she said.
Lexington resident Matthew Hibdon, director of leadership programs for Omicron Delta Kappa, said publicity is key for attracting people to Lexington.
“Some people may be afraid to move to such a small town…Lexington needs to tell its story. Let people know what makes this place special,” said Hibdon, who moved to Lexington six months ago. “When that story is broadcast, more people and their families will want to call Lexington home, too. No one else can tell it for us. It’s our duty.”
As Lexington plans for the future, many local residents want to know why promises of the past weren’t kept, such as bike accommodations, lighting and signs that were part of the 2013 Downtown Enhancement Plan.
“Is the city planning to move forward with the [downtown enhancement] plan that our tax dollars paid for?” Sebrell asked.
Arne Glaeser, city planning and development director, said ideas often get pushed aside because of a lack of money.
“Most of the changes will be funded by the city from local revenues, but there will likely be instances where grant money will be sought to complete projects,” he said.
Residents and elected officials urged the planning department and consulting firm to be more accountable and transparent when completing the new plan’s goals.
“Follow through, don’t put it on a shelf. It needs to be constantly looked at,” said Lexington Vice Mayor Marylin Alexander.
Todd Gordon, project manager at the Berkley Group, said the Comprehensive Plan upgrade will take 12 to 18 months to complete.
Glaeser said the sooner citizens get involved, the better.
“There [will] be more buy-in to the entire process if citizens and other groups are asked for their input at the beginning of this project,” he said in an interview via email. “Another benefit is that our citizens can provide details that we may have missed, such as reaching out to certain groups to encourage their participation in the update.”
The next workshop will be a public forum hosted by the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council on March 21 at 7 p.m. at Lylburn Downing Middle School. The Berkley Group also plans to send out a survey to all residents soon to get more input.
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