Phase 3 of the trail project encompasses South Peach Street, from Central Park to Mason Avenue. he architect is developing two designs for the Town’s consideration. The first would align the trail from Central Park on both sides of Peach Street, per the original master plan. The second would align the trail in the existing median in the two residential blocks, and then shift to both sides in the Randolph Avenue to Mason Avenue block. A designated parking median would be provided in this commercial area.
On Thursday, the Town of Cape Charles held a workshop to receive citizen input on Phase III of the Community Trail Project. With Phase 2 nearing completion (about $40k left of work), project lead Bob Panek and the design firm of Land Studio was hoping to gauge what features stakeholders would like to see in the next phase.
The town probably wasn’t expecting to walk into hornets’ nest of angry homeowners.
Much of the pushback stemmed from the notion that the folks that live on the section of South Peach between Tazewell and Randolph don’t want the block altered in any way—essentially, they want to opt out of the trail project.
The civic center was at capacity, which should have been a red flag for town representatives—in Northampton or Cape Charles, nobody shows up unless they are angry about something–and this crowd was noticeably agitated.
After Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek finished an overview of the project, lead engineer Bill Spivey of Land Studio attempted to go through a slide presentation, but found himself constantly interrupted by citizen questions, most of which were so off topic and inappropriate, it left him stunned and speechless. Despite numerous, increasingly desperate pleas that the models presented were only mockups meant to spur discussion, and that the purpose of the workshop was to, well workshop ideas, the meeting nonetheless degenerated into an angry urination contest.
The general ignorance was strangulating, and eventually sent several citizens running for the door. Citizens seems generally confused about concepts such as ordinances, setbacks, right-of-way and VDOT specifications. One citizen, after asking her 27th question, aggressively addressed town representatives, “I just want to say to town representatives, we keep hearing about VDOT, but there isn’t a representative from VDOT here so that we can challenge some of their ideas.” She probably didn’t get the memo that VDOT publishes what’s called the “red book”, or the Road and Bridge Specification Book. You don’t challenge what is in that book, you adhere to it.
At this point, Mayor George Proto attempted to establish order in the room, but to no avail. Despite more desperate pleas that this was a workshop, the members of the audience continued to thrust their hands in the air and shout questions above the din.
The evening reached new comic/tragic heights when Joe Fehrer, Chairman of the Historic District Review Board (HDRB), slowly stood, pushed his chair from the table, and addressed Mr. Spivey. Seemingly on the verge of tears from either rage or despair, it was hard to tell, Fehrer lamented the models that had been presented, mainly that any landscaping work might damage his plaster walls. He mentioned several times that as chairman of the HDRB, he understood the concept of historic integrity.
Note: the HRBD just approved a mega-hotel, we mean, massive home at 8 Bay Avenue that is so inappropriate and out of historical context that citizens are jokingly referring to it as the Red Roof Inn.
The irony of the Peach Street discontent was not lost on those familiar with the town’s recent history. The core cadre of malcontents included several who fought tooth and nail to ensure that the town could sell the old high school to developers for $10 and shut down the only basketball courts in town, courts that were extensively used by African-American youths. It should also be noted that HDRB Chairman Fehrer was a member of the board when the old school debacle took place.
Town Council plans to hold a work session in the future to address the Peach Street problem.