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Survey: More quality events on waterfront

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Elizabeth City's downtown waterfront needs to become more pedestrian-friendly, offer more events and “strengthen community quality of life,” according to results of a citizen survey released last week.

City officials reported the results of the survey during a public forum March 5 on the city's nearly finished waterfront master plan at St. James AME Zion Church.

Since kicking off development of the master plan last fall, the city and its consulting firm, Moffatt and Nichol, have now held three forums on it and, from mid-January through early February, conducted an online survey. Results of the survey, and highlights of the master plan, are available at harborofhospitality.com.

City Planner Kaitlen Alcock told the audience at last week’s forum that survey respondents said “strengthen(ing) community quality of life and activities” should be the foremost “value” in the waterfront's mission statement. Forty-six percent of respondents prioritized that value, followed by 20 percent who said “broaden(ing) commercial activities,” and 17 percent who said “creat(ing) new opportunities for public recreation.” Drawing less than 10 percent each were providing enhanced options for boating and water activities and improving natural areas.

Other highlights of the survey include:

* Survey respondents most want to see continuous walking paths, broadly appealing activities and “multiple culinary experiences” brought to the waterfront.

* Of five “core tenets” for long-term development, respondents prioritized “a welcoming harbor,” followed by targeted renewal of key properties, promoting accessibility, celebrating community heritage and maintaining a “verdant, resilient shore.”

* Moffatt and Nichol also proposed dividing the waterfront into four districts. From north to south, the districts include: the University, Gateway, Harborfront and Preserve. Asked to prioritize where development should occur, survey respondents chose the Harborfront, which includes the waterfront between Elizabeth Street and Charles Creek, followed by the Gateway (which includes Machelhe Island), the Preserve (Charles Creek) and the University, which includes Mid-Atlantic Christian University.

City officials also fielded questions from the audience. One man asked about how the city would supervise the Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Boardwalk at Charles Creek Park. The boardwalk is under construction and will feature exhibits on the local environment.

City Manager Rich Olson said after the meeting that the area will be illuminated, but he wasn't sure if a security camera currently overlooks it. Most city parks do have cameras, he noted.

Another audience member asked about she described as a lack of convenient parking downtown. Some people want to visit downtown but may not be able to walk far, she noted.

Olson said that engineering firm Kimley-Horn will perform a traffic analysis to figure out how to improve downtown traffic flow and open up additional parking, including by making more one-way streets.

After the meeting, Olson said Kimley-Horn's study is on hold while the city awaits resurfacing of Road Street between Main and Ehringhaus streets. The poor condition of tha section of Road Street diverts motorists onto other roads, meaning the repaving of Road Street could alter current traffic flow, he said.

Another audience member asked about bringing large, “big box stores” to downtown Elizabeth City. While such stores draw a lot of customers, downtown areas often lack the space or traffic volume to attract them.

Alcock told the man the downtown needs to focus on setting itself apart from major retailers, not trying to compete with them.

Following the meeting, Olson said the city remains on track to present a final draft of the master plan to City Council on March 26. If council wishes to approve the plan, it must first call for a public hearing at a subsequent meeting, he added.

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