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Residents, designers re-imagine downtown Hampton

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HAMPTON — Civil planners did some on-the-spot drafting Saturday, taking feedback directly from residents early in the morning then coming back in the afternoon with designs they say would foster more of a “downtown” feeling in Hampton.

The design work focused mainly on the “village core” area of Lafayette Road between Winnacunnet Road and High Street, especially improvements to pedestrian access to town parking and better utilization of the abandoned railroad behind Depot Square and nearby commercial parking.

Jack Mettee, of Mettee Planning Consultants, summed up the top concerns expressed at the morning meeting as follows:

  • Improve the intersection of Route 27 and Route 1 next to the Old Salt.
  • Turn the abandoned railroad right-of-way into a mixed-use, pedestrian-safe way.
  • Improve access between the municipal parking lot and Lafayette Road.
  • Add more green space wherever possible.
  • Enhance parking.

Hearing those suggestions before 10 a.m., Mettee and his team came back to Hampton Academy at 4 p.m. to show off their mock-ups, which portrayed a re-imagined, green version of Hampton that addressed some of the above suggestions.

Mettee detailed what he described as “nodes” of activity in town that should be connected, including the town parking lot, Route 1 intersections with Winnacunnet Road and High Street, and the civic area, with the library and schools.

“I think the people kind of expressed this idea of, ‘Can we coordinate the activity among these different nodes by making it easier for people to move around?'” Mettee said.

Shannon Alther described some relatively inexpensive ways to clearly describe the downtown by adding welcoming signs in space next to the Winnacunnet Road intersection, for instance, and by using different light poles and banners that would “create a nice pattern and rhythm through the downtown area.”

Alther also introduced the concept of “in-fill buildings to help reinforce the streetscape as a downtown element” by creating new buildings that would sit close to the road in the gaps that currently leave open space downtown and ensuring they have storefront glass to entice shoppers.

This project would be coordinated with an idea that Mettee described as a public-private partnership between the town and Route 1 businesses that have parking behind their buildings on the north side of the road.

The town, he said, could potentially make use of those spaces and unify those lots in a manner that makes sense with the added intrigue of new business that might develop along the railroad right-of-way as it gets more pedestrian attention.

Roger Hawk, one of the planners, said he counted 1,200 parking spaces in the “village core” area and said he thinks only about a quarter of those spaces are used on a consistent basis.

“Our perception is that you have a lot more paved parking than is actually being used because a lot of it is in individual private ownership and it’s not getting fully utilized,” Hawk said. He said the town could amend its zoning ordinance to allow businesses a parking exception if they could prove there’s public parking available nearby.

“That is a very common practice that is used in town centers, city centers all over the country as a way of creating more intensity of use, which you really want to do in your city center,” Hawk said.

Dana Lynch, one of the planners, described what he said could be a “trial run” to see how residents might respond to bolstered pedestrian provisions by extending sidewalks on Exeter Road and running a footpath to the back of Depot Square, bypassing the bridge and traffic.

“Being such a large and intensely developed residential area, it would be nice to create some kind of safe pedestrian and bike way connection to the downtown. This is a good place to start,” Lynch said.

Further designs showed an island that could be introduced into the center of a stretch of Lafayette Road to calm traffic in the pedestrian-heavy retail zone and the elimination of nose-in parking there in favor of parallel parking, the creation of more commercial-oriented alleyways similar to Commercial Alley in Portsmouth and more landscaping and lighting along downtown streets and open parking lots.

Brendan McNamara, vice chairman of the Planning Board, said the presentation was part of a two-year study the consultants started in November.

“The community really came together today with a lot of ideas for the planning professionals to start thinking about,” McNamara said.

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Article source: http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20130416-NEWS-304160342