New architectural design guidelines in the works for downtown Ashland

downtown ashland train scaled

The Downtown Ashland Association was recently named a recipient of state grant funding it plans to use to develop new architectural design guidelines for the town’s downtown area. (Photo courtesy of Town of Ashland)

New architectural design guidelines for real estate in downtown Ashland are on the horizon, as is grant funding for landlords and businesses interested in improvements to their commercial spaces in the town.

The Downtown Ashland Association, a nonprofit that offers economic development and entertainment programming, is kicking off its Downtown Ashland Revitalization project, which will be powered by state-provided grant funds and done in coordination with town officials.

The effort is intended to give landowners and developers a town-sanctioned roadmap for the design of construction projects in the area.

“When (developers) are thinking about purchasing a place or an existing property owner is thinking about whether to build, they will be able to flip through and see what’s beneficial to the community and what’s an easy approval process,” said Maggie Beal Longest, executive director of the Downtown Ashland Association.

Fueling the project is a $75,000 grant awarded to the nonprofit by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced the award last week.

The award will be split half-and-half between the creation of the design guidelines and the establishment of a grant fund for renovation projects for commercial properties in downtown Ashland.

“The goal for those grants is to renovate buildings that will have economic impact downtown” Longest said.

The nonprofit anticipates it will have the grant program established and funding available by the end of the year.

maggie beal longest

Maggie Beal Longest

Community input sessions are expected to kick off this year to help guide the creation of the guidelines. The association plans to hire architects to provide recommendations on the design guidelines, which Longest said will be voluntary but intended to improve the appearance of downtown and increase foot traffic in the area.

“What I expect to hear from neighbors is we want pedestrian friendly architecture with first-floor windows,” she said.

She said no such guidelines currently exist for downtown Ashland, and they will be developed with the help of Ashland’s planning department, planning commission and economic development authority.

Longest said the association won’t issue a request for proposals for the project’s architectural consultants until the documentation related to the funding award is finalized with the state government. A memorandum of understanding with the state is anticipated in the coming days.

Downtown Ashland includes all commercial properties that exist along England Street from Route 1 to James Street, as well as all of North Railroad and South Railroad avenues. The area is home to businesses such as The Caboose Market & Cafe, Sports Page Bar & Grill and furniture store Thrill of the Hunt, among others.

While the guidelines project is somewhat similar to a small-area plan, the initiative has a more limited scope that’s focused on the design of buildings in the area, Ashland Planning Director Nora Amos said.

Amos said the guidelines wouldn’t venture into rezoning recommendations, as the area is already zoned in a manner appropriate for the commercial development deemed appropriate for the area.

“The properties are already zoned for the highest and best use,” she said. “We have some properties that are underutilized … we hope this stirs up some revitalization efforts.”

The nonprofit association was eligible for the state funding being used for the design guidelines project because it’s part of the Virginia Main Street Program, which is a state-operated economic and community development initiative for historic commercial districts.

Amos said the association’s designation allows it to support town government efforts such as the planned downtown design guidelines, the creation of which is included in Ashland’s comprehensive plan.

“(The Downtown Ashland Association) is able to take some of our initiatives and support them through staffing and funding through this grant,” Amos said.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development also provided the association a $100,000 grant to develop the Ashland and Hanover Entrepreneurial Ecosystem program. That initiative is intended to improve networking between small businesses in the town and the county and also offer workshops on topics like recruitment and online marketing.

downtown ashland train scaled

The Downtown Ashland Association was recently named a recipient of state grant funding it plans to use to develop new architectural design guidelines for the town’s downtown area. (Photo courtesy of Town of Ashland)

New architectural design guidelines for real estate in downtown Ashland are on the horizon, as is grant funding for landlords and businesses interested in improvements to their commercial spaces in the town.

The Downtown Ashland Association, a nonprofit that offers economic development and entertainment programming, is kicking off its Downtown Ashland Revitalization project, which will be powered by state-provided grant funds and done in coordination with town officials.

The effort is intended to give landowners and developers a town-sanctioned roadmap for the design of construction projects in the area.

“When (developers) are thinking about purchasing a place or an existing property owner is thinking about whether to build, they will be able to flip through and see what’s beneficial to the community and what’s an easy approval process,” said Maggie Beal Longest, executive director of the Downtown Ashland Association.

Fueling the project is a $75,000 grant awarded to the nonprofit by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced the award last week.

The award will be split half-and-half between the creation of the design guidelines and the establishment of a grant fund for renovation projects for commercial properties in downtown Ashland.

“The goal for those grants is to renovate buildings that will have economic impact downtown” Longest said.

The nonprofit anticipates it will have the grant program established and funding available by the end of the year.

maggie beal longest

Maggie Beal Longest

Community input sessions are expected to kick off this year to help guide the creation of the guidelines. The association plans to hire architects to provide recommendations on the design guidelines, which Longest said will be voluntary but intended to improve the appearance of downtown and increase foot traffic in the area.

“What I expect to hear from neighbors is we want pedestrian friendly architecture with first-floor windows,” she said.

She said no such guidelines currently exist for downtown Ashland, and they will be developed with the help of Ashland’s planning department, planning commission and economic development authority.

Longest said the association won’t issue a request for proposals for the project’s architectural consultants until the documentation related to the funding award is finalized with the state government. A memorandum of understanding with the state is anticipated in the coming days.

Downtown Ashland includes all commercial properties that exist along England Street from Route 1 to James Street, as well as all of North Railroad and South Railroad avenues. The area is home to businesses such as The Caboose Market & Cafe, Sports Page Bar & Grill and furniture store Thrill of the Hunt, among others.

While the guidelines project is somewhat similar to a small-area plan, the initiative has a more limited scope that’s focused on the design of buildings in the area, Ashland Planning Director Nora Amos said.

Amos said the guidelines wouldn’t venture into rezoning recommendations, as the area is already zoned in a manner appropriate for the commercial development deemed appropriate for the area.

“The properties are already zoned for the highest and best use,” she said. “We have some properties that are underutilized … we hope this stirs up some revitalization efforts.”

The nonprofit association was eligible for the state funding being used for the design guidelines project because it’s part of the Virginia Main Street Program, which is a state-operated economic and community development initiative for historic commercial districts.

Amos said the association’s designation allows it to support town government efforts such as the planned downtown design guidelines, the creation of which is included in Ashland’s comprehensive plan.

“(The Downtown Ashland Association) is able to take some of our initiatives and support them through staffing and funding through this grant,” Amos said.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development also provided the association a $100,000 grant to develop the Ashland and Hanover Entrepreneurial Ecosystem program. That initiative is intended to improve networking between small businesses in the town and the county and also offer workshops on topics like recruitment and online marketing.

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Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
9 months ago

“We have some properties that are underutilized … we hope this stirs up some revitalization efforts.” So if the building owner does not comply with the new guidelines, what is the enforcement? Fines or liens on the property?

Freddie Edwards
Freddie Edwards
9 months ago

sure, fine them and force them to spend their “private” funds on something the Ashland Government decided the town needs. That’s one way to run them out of business. How about they limit the new rules to permits for remodel and new owners so it becomes part of their budget and not subject the current owners to increase expense.

Michael Morgan-Dodson
Michael Morgan-Dodson
9 months ago

This is grant money for planning and support. In FACT agreements make it clear that you will not use the funds for eminent domain even in construction grants. There is no fines and enforcement added by these funds. Most likely this will update the designs and plans into a local design book for work in the historic district but Ashland does not have a local ARB and doesn’t tell people which color or brick to use. It is simple a guide for those small, local owners that they can use FOR FREE without having to pay an architect. Overall these… Read more »

Macon Powers
Macon Powers
9 months ago

Off subject, but Ashland would have greater economic activity if more people made it into Ashland. The Hanover County Sherriff’s Department is the biggest public nuisance I have ever seen. They sit all around the county with a gadget that reads license plates and instantly returns a description of the registered vehicle and informs if the inspection or registration is expired. They sit around waiting for a computer to tell them to harass an individual with most likely a minor rule infraction. Welcome to Hanover! Kind of interesting that if everyone paid their registrations and got their inspections on time,… Read more »