Charleston council members adopt plans to shape downtown development

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- City Council members unanimously approved two plans Monday night that could change the face of Charleston over the next decade or two.The new downtown redevelopment and comprehensive plans, more than 18 months in the making, were written by a pair of consulting companies after multiple meetings with a local steering committee and several public open houses."These plans are unprecedented in terms of community input," Planning Director Dan Vriendt said before council members voted on the plans. "We met with hundreds and hundreds of people and we believe these plans reflect the will of the city."The plans include construction of a pair of east/west bike lanes along Kanawha Boulevard from Magic Island to Patrick Street. It also makes official an ordinance passed by City Council in June, setting formal rules for raising egg-laying hens or honeybees and planting community gardens.The comprehensive plan -- required by state law -- replaces an outdated 1996 version. The previous development guide for downtown, known as the American Cities plan, dates back to the early 1980s, when the opening of the Charleston Town Center Mall was about to reshape retailing patterns.The new plans, titled "Imagine Charleston," would also help guide the Charleston Urban Redevelopment Authority, said Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis. CURA now has a guideline to focus on downtown redevelopment. The plans will become effective on Oct. 12.
Also during the meeting, Councilman Cubert Smith sparred with Mayor Danny Jones over the construction of a handicap ramp at the Charleston Work Release Center on Hansford Street. Smith had been a vocal opponent of relocating the center, which was moved from 607 Brooks St. to Hansford Street last year.Smith said state Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein promised East End residents that he would keep them updated on any proposed changes at the site. Smith expressed concern because he said Rubenstein had not met with East End residents in some time.He asked council members to table a resolution allowing the ramp to be built until Rubenstein addressed the community, but they declined. The resolution went on to pass with only Smith and Councilman Robert Sheets objecting.Sheets said he understands the need for handicap access, but said adding a ramp would cut off the Hansford Street sidewalk.Jones said he would call Rubenstein this week to find out if he had met with community members recently.Reach Travis Crum at or 304-348-5163. 
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