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October 27, 2016

Post office alley could become a public plaza

The purpose of it is to make it a more attractive and inviting area from the parking lot to Main Street.
— Jim Carson, civil engineer who owns adjacent building
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Warrenton officials have begun to explore an idea for improving a blocked alley next to the Main Street post office.

The vision includes a “plaza” with landscaping, lights and benches, along a walkway that would link the street to parking lots behind the red brick building, constructed in 1916.

Owned by the U.S. Postal Service, the space measures 18 feet wide at its narrowest and about 215 feet long, according to Jim Carson, a civil engineer whose wife Kim owns the 45 Main St. building on the alley’s west side.

Mr. Carson paid Charlottesville-based Land Planning and Design Associates to draft a preliminary concept for the space.

“It’s certainly not the final version and, obviously, a lot might depend on cost,” Mr. Carson said. “It’s really right now just an idea.”

Councilman Sean Polster (At-large) called it “an opportunity to create a public space that ties together Main Street and parking in Old Town.”

Town officials hope soon to open discussions with the U.S. Postal Service representatives about buying or using the real estate.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey said the idea stemmed from conversations with council members and merchants about how to make parking more accessible in Old Town.

“It’s been a concept around for a while, going back to Main Street plans 20 years ago,” Mr. Godfrey said. “This is the most recent iteration of it.”

Town officials had approached postal service representatives years ago about purchasing the alley, but they didn’t want to sell, he said.

Mr. Godfrey rekindled the idea this summer. He hopes the town can buy the alley or get an easement to use it.

Mr. Carson sees improving the alley as a way to “get more activity on Main Street. My building is office space . . . but wants to be a restaurant. There’s no market for another restaurant in Old Town. This is just one idea to put my money where my mouth is.”

Mr. Godfrey described the project as a potential “phased development,” because the town has not budgeted for improvements there.

The post office in 2009 moved most of its truck traffic to a “carrier annex” at 7349 Comfort Inn Drive, just north of town. That would seem to improve the prospects for reconfiguring the space, with less postal traffic in and out of the downtown property.

About six delivery and carrier vehicles still enter the lot behind the Main Street post office, where employees also park.

Postal employees also park person vehicles in the alley.

To improve the alley, part of a chain-link fence that surrounds the parking lot would need removal. The rear parking would lose about 10 spaces, and trucks would have less space to turn around.

Mr. Carson hopes the idea will gain traction with the postal service and citizens.

“The purpose of it is to make it a more attractive and inviting area from the parking lot to Main Street,” the Carson/Ashley owner said. “Hopefully, people will be more inclined to park there and visit Main Street businesses.”

Town officials earlier this year explored the controversial idea of creating “parklets” along Main Street. A pilot program would have converted a parking space or two into public gathering spots. But, after months of debate, no business or organization applied to test the concept.

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