Manassas Journal Messenger | Manassas seeks input on future shape of city

The City of Manassas wants to include residents in redesigning its future. And although Helena Soprano, an Alexandria-based urban design consultant, suggests using historic and varied design techniques, residents worry more about practical matters.

Soprano said a downtown area mixed with residential and commercial buildings, and planned with aesthetics in mind, would be preferable. Old style lamp posts, more trees and varying building facades would enhance the area.

But resident Jeff Warner said his neighbors worry about locating commercial buildings near residential areas, reminding city staff of the sore Sudley Drive issue, where residents fought against what they believed to be a backdoor way for commercial entities to locate in the residential neighborhood.

Warner also said that while trees in the road median of Va. 28 would be a pleasant sight, traffic and parking issues in the city are more important.

?My office used to be on Church Street, and we had to move because there was nowhere to park,? Warner said.

The office of Community Development held a meeting last Tuesday night for residents to begin a two-to-three month workshop, designed to involve residents in updating the city?s urban design section of the comprehensive plan.

According to a flyer posted outside City Hall urging residents to join the program, ?The design chapter is a guide for developers, builders, homeowners and property owners, as well as citizens who are interested in new development and renovation.?

Elizabeth Via, Director of Community Development, said the city wanted resident input because of recent protests over the re-designation of the Sudley Drive parcel. And while that issue fell under the land use planning category, urban design is a subsequent chapter of the comprehensive plan.

?Land use is what uses can go on the land, and urban design tells us what those uses should look like architecturally, physically, etc.,? Via said.

Manassas hired Soprano to lead the discussion sessions. She said the few paragraphs currently directing urban design were good, but needed more detail.

?The existing document could really benefit from community input, better organization and some visual aids,? Soprano said.

Soprano showed the approximately 15 residents in attendance a visual preference survey, asking which of two pictures was more aesthetically pleasing. Using examples from other Virginia jurisdictions, as well as other places in the country, Soprano introduced some design concepts to the lay audience.

Maintaining a sense of scale, visual order, consistency, balance symmetry and rhythm were the concepts that Soprano said could be used to create a more appealing city. She also suggested using infill sites, historic resources, public spaces and green building techniques in the urban design chapter.

?This document needs to help Liz and her staff when they sit down with a developer to have better communication right from the start,? Soprano said.

But Manassas resident Bob Schilpp wondered where a developer would build, since the city is 92 percent built already.

?It occurs to me that redevelopment would be our primary focus in Manassas, because there doesn?t seem to be a lot of developable land,? Schilpp said.

Planning Commissioner Jonathan Way also worried that Soprano?s idea may not be feasible in Manassas.

?It?s fine to want some principles,? Way said. ?but the reality of achieving it is subject to some skepticism.?

City Manager Lawrence Hughes said new construction wasn?t necessarily the focus. He said some area buildings are becoming outdated, mostly because the property they?re located on has become too valuable for anything but a high-class, modern building. Redevelopment of many buildings will soon be necessary, and this chapter will serve to guide that process.

All residents are encouraged to attend the next workshop session. For information on time, date and location, residents can call the Community Development office at (703) 257-8223.

Staff writer Sari Krieger can be reached at (703) 369-6751.

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