Months of suggestions and input from the community have pushed a pilot project with hopes of revitalizing downtown Charlotte Amalie off the drawing board and into a new realm of possibility.
The pilot project centers on the creation of a form-based code for the Charlotte Amalie area – a comprehensive document that covers everything from what kind of sub-districts could be created to how the buildings should be constructed in relation to the street. And with some help from residents over the past few months, the rough draft of the document also fills in all the little details needed to help preserve the downtown’s historic "DNA," and hopefully, rebuild its character.
Victor Dover of Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners was brought in by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to spearhead the drafting process. Along with engineer Richard Hall, he returned to the territory last week to conduct a series of follow up workshops to last year’s week-long charrette, which invited the public to come out and help with the planning efforts.
From that process, Dover said his team was able to put together the final boundary for the town and get a sense of exactly what its residents are looking for in terms of revitalization.
Once completed, the form-based code is meant to fold into much larger ongoing efforts by the government to revamp the territory’s zoning laws and, ultimately, its major towns, including Cruz Bay, Christiansted and Frederiksted. The code would have to be adopted by the Senate before it could be implemented, but to safeguard against unnecessary amendments, Planning and Natural Resources officials said they will put time into educational outreach efforts for local lawmakers to talk about the importance of keeping the new code intact.
Meeting at the Christ Church Methodist Sanctuary Friday night, then Saturday morning at Lockhart Elementary School, Dover and Hall said they’ve learned the most important issues for residents are:
• Historic preservation, with new development being designed in a way that recognizes the original structure and character of the town;
• Connecting as many pieces of the area together as possible;
• Making sure the area is more pedestrian friendly;
• Recognizing that "small is beautiful" when it comes the scale of buildings and other structures;
• Bringing the town back to life at night.
Providing "smart parking" solutions, restoring empty lots and abandoned buildings and creating "high quality" open spaces were also some of the recommendations presented by Dover and Hall, whose mock ups of Main Street, Savan and the Waterfront turned some of the blighted and overdeveloped areas into picturesque scenes replete with cobblestone streets, warm colors, wide sidewalks and large, shady trees.
The mock up of Main Street, which also included old-fashioned lampposts and comfortable benches, is what Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said is already in the works, with Phase I starting in the next two months. The beginning of the project will run from the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School to the Enid Baa Library, while Phase I runs from the library down to Post Office Square, he said during the recent meetings.
The proposed form-based code, meanwhile, divides Charlotte Amalie into sub-districts, with different regulations and guidelines laid out for each and recommendations for the "intensity" of development varying between town and neighborhood. Along with a more urbanized town center, sub-districts include: neighborhood center, neighborhood general, neighborhood edge and civic space.
Dover said there are also recommendations for waterfront lots — buildings between the Waterfront and Main Street — that have "two fronts" that are different from others in the town.
Responding later to questions from residents concerned about the lack of diversity among downtown retailers, Dover said that while the form-based code is not primarily focused on land use, it does make certain provisions for it, since there is, in many more metropolitan areas, a fear of "oversaturation."
Suggestions for residents for more inclusions to the code varied from minimum maintenance requirements for abandoned buildings to provisions for "public art."
"This is very real stuff," Hall said later, when asked if there’s a good chance Charlotte Amalie would end of looking as it does in their mock ups.
"It’s entirely possible," he added. "There are dozens and dozens of place we’ve worked in with less energy than this that have moved forward. There’s a frustration with day-to-day details, but when you sit down and really see what the issues are, they serve as a catalyst to get people going."
The next set of drafts of the proposed form-based code and project summary will be finished by May or June. In the meantime, residents are encouraged to keep submitting ideas and feedback. The existing draft can be viewed at http://www.doverkohl.info/reports/CA_DistrictCode_CommunityReviewDraft_031511.pdf, while residents have the opportunity to learn more about the project and its progress at www.thetownsblueprint.com.