The Fredericksburg City Council has agreed to vacate ownership of the 1000 block of Douglas Street to allow a developer to turn it into a pedestrian and bike path.
Members of the public who came to Tuesday’s meeting opposed the decision, and the council plans to hold a public forum before its final vote on the ordinance in August.
Half of the one-way street that runs from Lewis Street to William Street would become part of a combined development of two blocks downtown that contain the former Free Lance–Star building and the recently demolished old William Street Executive Building.
In their place will be a mixed-use building and two residential buildings known as Amelia House and Winchester Place with plans for 85 apartments. The development is slated to have a 3 1/2-story parking garage and an additional 100 spaces in an underground parking garage.
By vacating Douglas Street, the city would allow developers to create what they are calling “The Promenade,” a strip that would accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists and serve as an alley for delivery vehicles on the south side of the street.
If The Promenade is approved, developers William Square LLC and Liberty Place Partners LLC, would be required to add another level to the parking deck, and build a 98-room boutique hotel.
Many of the 12 Fredericksburg residents who spoke during the public hearing about vacating the street said they had received little information about the project and its effects on traffic patterns and their community.
Gayle Todd Pitchford, a Fredericksburg resident for much of her life, rejected the notion that Douglas Street functions as an alleyway, as was presented by city staff.
“The 1,000 block of Douglas Street is a major thoroughfare for people attending and/or participating in events in the downtown Fredericksburg area,” Pitchford said. “It is a thoroughfare for people attending football games at Maury School. It is a thoroughfare for attendees and participants in the Christmas parade. It is a thoroughfare for concerts and events at Hurkamp Park and its farmers market. It is a thoroughfare for those attending candlelight tours in the area. It is a thoroughfare for all engaged in Civil War reenactments and for $8 steak night at Sedona.”
Another Fredericksburg resident, Anne Little, felt that the public has been left in the dark about the project.
“We the public and the neighborhoods had zero input into this process,” she said.
Little called for a public forum to be held so city residents can get answers to their questions about the project—and the vacation of Douglas Street.
After hearing the public’s concerns, Councilwoman Kerry Devine introduced a substitute motion for the vacation of Douglas Street, with the condition that a public forum will be held before the second and final vote in August.
Devine also proposed that the city will look into the safety concerns that may arise if Douglas Street is closed.
Before voting for the proposal, City Council voted 5–2 to overturn the Planning Commission’s vote that the closing of Douglas Street would not comply with the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan.
The motion to vacate Douglas Street passed 4–3 with Councilmen Matt Kelly, Charlie Frye and Jason Graham voting against it.
The second vote on the vacation of Douglas Street will occur Aug. 13. City Manager Tim Baroody is working with the developers to plan a public forum.
In other action, City Council approved the development of 13 townhouses on Sophia Street and voted to vacate the right-of-way for Alum Spring Road to realign Alum Spring Road and the VCR Trail. The council also approved a plan to loan the slave auction block to the Fredericksburg Area Museum to display.