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October 15, 2018 · OPINION

Marshall Main St. Project key to village vitality

This 2013 illustration depicts the concept for Main and Frost streets — with power lines moved underground. The streetscape has since changed notably, with the Gentle Harvest renovation and reuse of the former bank building (left).
By Neal Wavra

In the fall of 2014, my wife and I chose to locate our family business on Main Street in Marshall. One of the reasons we did this was because a forward-looking group of residents, business owners and county officials had devised a plan to improve the village of Marshall through a series of initiatives. One of these was an ambitious plan to secure state funding to beautify Main Street.

A main street with new safer sidewalks, street lights, delineated parking, street trees and, most importantly, underground utilities would be a major draw for Marshall. I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago and watched the neighboring town undertake a similar effort. The effect was that the neighboring town revitalized. Business opened, pedestrian traffic amplified, revenues blossomed and the town became a place people talked about and wanted to visit.

We saw the opportunity that such a plan for Marshall represented. So when the news that the Main Street Project would proceed without the undergrounding due to a looming deadline and funding constraints was announced at the Marshall Business and Residents Association meeting held on Sept. 11, I was concerned and confused as to why.

So I asked to meet with Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel, former Supervisor Peter Schwartz and Erin Kozanecki, director of OMB for Fauquier County and project manager, to seek clarification. Ms. Kozanecki, in particular, was a tremendous help in educating me on the scope of the project, its history, the opportunity, the impact, the costs and benefits.

The result of these meetings was the understanding that the Main Street Project is a tremendous opportunity for Marshall and that there is a tight window of time to realize both the street beautification and the undergrounding of utilities.

Last Tuesday evening, the MBRA once again held a meeting on topic. Ms. McDaniel, Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Kozanecki, along with others, presented the same information I came to understand, thanks to a question-and-answer forum led by MBRA President Mary Wilkerson. Many in our community are upset, and I think this is because there is a volume of information that surrounds this issue that is misleading and incorrect. Thankfully, many of the questions, concerns and false claims were addressed during the meeting.

For the benefit of those that were not present at these meetings, I would like to share with you some of the facts of the situation and why this is an opportunity we must seize upon as a community.

Going back as far as 1991, a collective effort began to improve Marshall. Residents, businesses and county officials devoted countless hours of public service in a coordinated effort to secure grant funding for this purpose. Ten years ago, a matching grant was awarded to Marshall, whereby the grant would fund 80 percent of the project if we covered 20 percent.

We now face a deadline of November 20 to move the project from the design phase to the construction phase. If this deadline is not met, then per the terms of the grant, all monies funded thus far must be returned and any future dollars would be lost. In this scenario, Fauquier County would be out nearly $500,000, which was already spent on the design phase.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation that precluded the funding of undergrounding of utilities on all grants going forward. This legislation has been challenged but without success. This means that only the funds that were earmarked prior to 2013 can be used for undergrounding; that totals about $2 million. The issue is that the undergrounding will require about $1.5 million more.

Raising these funds prior to Nov. 20 poses a real challenge and threatens to jeopardize the entire grant. This is why the decision was made to abandon the undergrounding and proceed with streetscape improvements. Since the announcement of this decision in September, Supervisor McDaniel negotiated with the Virginia Department of Transportation for an extension. If we are able to raise $1.5 million, VDOT will permit the project to proceed inclusive of the undergrounding, which most everyone seems to agree is the most important part.

Many have voiced concerns about the streetscape improvements. One of the main issues is that the road will be narrowed by 2 feet. Throughout this process I learned that the sidewalks and everything between them is the purview of VDOT. Any change to the sidewalks or roadways requires VDOT’s approval. At any point now or in the future, should Marshall wish to improve the sidewalks to make them safer, VDOT approval would be necessary. And, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, VDOT is obligated to make all projects comply with its regulations.

At present, Marshall sidewalks do not comply. In order to do so, they need to be widened. By widening the sidewalks, VDOT elected to lessen the parking lanes by one foot on either side of the street, preserving the 11-foot travel lanes. These dimensions are consistent with roads all over the commonwealth that VDOT administers, including Route 50 as it goes through Upperville, which has similar types of traffic to our Main Street.

Another concern is that the materials used in the streetscape improvements may be too costly and pose a maintenance issue. Some noted that using brick at the aprons of the sidewalks is such an issue. VDOT choses to use brick in these cases for their durability, esthetic capability and ability to be repaired or replaced more efficiently as only damaged areas need be addressed rather than the whole.

At stake here is realizing a decades long effort born of the vision of members of our community to improve Marshall. To increase the safety and beauty of our Main Street. To benefit from a 4-to-1 match in funds from the state. To show that our small rural village can secure and execute such a project, which will help both Marshall and Fauquier County as a whole. And to set a standard that will be carried to other parts of Marshall as we continue to generate plans to extend such improvements to the whole of Main Street and surrounding service districts.

For the present and future of Marshall, I think the success of the Main Street Project is of paramount importance. I am of the belief that accomplishing a project like this requires a village — our village — and with our collective effort, I hope we can accomplish this together.

The writer is the proprietor of Field & Main Restaurant on Main Street in Marshall.
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nonewtaxes · October 17, 2018 at 12:08 pm
It's the government. Spend $6m for some planters and bricks. Then go back and rip it up to put line underground. Another $6m.

$6 million for plants and bricks while our teachers starve.
Pkroper22 · October 16, 2018 at 9:30 pm
Mr. Wavra,
Thank you for taking the time to post the article and make some clarifications for us. I still have a few questions and concerns. I regret not being able to make the meeting, however, I did read the minutes recorded in the Marshall Observer and the feeling I got was that it did not seem overly productive and still left plenty of questions.

I guess my first question would be, how/why has this come down to the last minute for what needs to be done? This seems to be a natural trend in our county. Hassle back and forth until the last possible moment and then go with the cheapest route. The old saying, "you get what you pay for" comes to mind often. I am not new to this county, I was born and raised here, so I write from experience.

The sidewalk project that had already begun in Marshall...they decided to go with the partial brick, which looks nice, but did anyone think about the maintenance? I apologize, I say "they", but I really don't know who "they" are. As was brought up in a previous comment, Marshall really needs to be incorporated. It currently is not. So these nice sidewalks receive no maintenance needs. They will soon not "look so nice". I feel a lot of these "higher ups" love to come up with great ideas, but are never willing to consider the upkeep and maintenance it takes to KEEP it looking nice.

Widening the sidewalks. The current sidewalks have about a 1 foot strip of grass between the sidewalk and curb/road. Could this be taken out to count towards the added sidewalk space? Has that already been taken into account? I read about the current safety concerns, and currently would not be in favor of narrowing main street. I can say that the way things are now with a wide street, there is a huge safety concern. I live on Frost Street and make the turn onto Main Street every day. If I were to guesstimate how often cars are parked illegally on the corner (again, this is just from my own experience), I would put it at greater than 50% of the time. The view to pull out is obstructed, even worse when it is big trucks or SUV's. Now picture a car driving down main street that is supposed to stop for the pedestrian in the crosswalk. They cannot be seen if a car is parked there illegally. I'm guessing this would be an even greater risk if the road is narrowed? Is there a way to enforce the no parking zones? Is there a design that helps alleviate this concern?Again, Marshall is not incorporated, so I don't see how this issue is ever resolved with the illegal parking.

If the road is narrowed, will parking still be available on Main Street? This may have been answered already, but wasn't sure. From speaking with other residents, it sounds like this venture could really hurt our small businesses. I have been told stories of how many of the smaller businesses in Middleburg were put out of business due to the "beautification" of the town, shops that were easily accessible were no longer easily accessible during and after the project and they went under. For your "Field & Main" restaurant, I'd surmise you could withstand the hit (as you are a highly touted establishment), but I doubt some of the smaller businesses would be able to withstand the hit.

The main part was getting the lines underground. But now we are talking about raising taxes for those here to bury them since it was the first thing to be cut. Was one option to put them underground at a later time? Wouldn't that be much more expensive to do after we have spruced up the other parts? Would the trees pose a risk to the power lines since they are no longer going to be put underground? I'm not trying to be the antogonist, just asking questions that I don't know the answer to.

I will show my bias though. I'm not for raising the taxes for this project. Although the restaurants and upper level businesses that have come in have been nice and brought people to our town, I really don't get to enjoy it. I can't. They are too expensive. And I believe for a grand majority of the people that live right here within the town would agree (but I won't discount that I could be wrong, I only write from my own experience).

In the end, I just don't want to see this move forward just for the sake of getting it done. I simply want to see it done right.
nonewtaxes · October 15, 2018 at 5:44 pm
Oh yeah, forgot to mention that $6m beauty project can't make the old movie house any more pretty. On one sie of the sidewalk you want to have bricks and flowers and trees and such and on the other side you'll keep the old decrepit health and safety hazards. Sounds reasonable.
nonewtaxes · October 15, 2018 at 5:42 pm
It'd be interested to get a list of the accident reports for those unsafe sidewalks. I don't ever remember seeing an ambulance called to Marshall because of unsafe sidewalks.

The parking lanes were reduce by 2 feet but not the travel lanes???? What the heck does that mean? The distance between the sidewalks is reduced by 2 feet. Good luck getting a hay tractor coming up one way and a lumber truck the other way. Maybe rte 50 in Upperville is only 11 feet wide but there isnt any parking on the street except for those areas which cut into the sidewalk by the post office and such. Do you plan to have no parking on Main Street? Ford lists the width of a F150 (w/o) mirrors at 80 to 86 inches. If I can divide right, 80"/12 > 6 feet wide. And you think you can get two pickem ups down the road a the same time. I might be practical to have a couple of cars parked across from each and 18 inches from the curb and the have two trucks go down the road in opposite directions and check for clearance before you spend $6m.

This seems like a capital improvements project. What's the payback time? Cost of project/Marshall business tax revenue = ???

I've seen the project to beautify Upperville. VDOT used stamped concrete in the road instead of bricks. Thay have to come back ever year to spray paint them red so they look like bricks. The fake bicks also create noise pollution in the quite little village. Most of the curbs are all chewed up from horse trucks and plow trucks. Looks real pretty to see all that disrepair. When fake bricks get a pothole VDOT doesnt replace the fake brick. It fill the hole with tar. That's real pretty too.

Increase the school budget by $500,000/year for 12 years instead. It'll be a better return.
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