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Council deems downtown alleyway to be pedestrian-only

The Albemarle City Council on Monday approved a motion to convert the alleyway besides the old Davis Drug building on West Main Street to be for pedestrians only.

The decision allows for the alleyway to be redesigned and revitalized as a way to further develop the downtown.

The motion is contingent on the surrounding businesses approving the idea.

A project team was formed in February to manage the alleyway project, which had been discussed for many years. Jonathan Misenheimer, who works in public utilities, heads the group, which also consists of Joy Almond, Lisa Kiser, Kevin Robinson, Ross Holshouser, Dennis Curlee and Michael Roark. The team met in May to discuss its vision for the alley along with the logistics for making it a reality.

With the alleyway being only about 35 feet wide, Misenheimer told council there’s no way it can safely support both vehicle traffic cars and pedestrians.

“If there’s cars parked in that alley,” he said, “there’s no way to put any kind of tables, chairs or anything with the overall vision that the group is looking at.”

The city acquired the alleyway from the county last year. In gaining control of the space, the city also executed an agreement with property owners along the adjoining alleyway that extends to South First Street, executed an agreement with the King family to lease and improve the parking lots in this area and made parking lot improvements to the parking lot near the Albemarle Sweet Shop.

The city has already had electrical staff, a county building inspector and an electrical engineer onsite and in the buildings along the alleyway to determine what should be done with overhead power lines and meter bases inside of the buildings facing South Second Street. It has also received guidance from street maintenance and water and sewer distribution regarding the possibility of hitting private water and sewer lines in the alleyway and repaving this area.

Misenheimer mentioned there are plans to design chairs and tables for outdoor dining and casual gathering along with overhead string lighting and decorative poles. Removable posts will also be installed to allow for emergency access as well as loading/unloading for events.

He gave examples of cites like Shelby, Chapel Hill and Spartanburg, S.C. which have renovated alleyways to allow for outdoor dining and other amenities.

Police Chief David Dulin, Fire Chief T. Pierre Brewton and Fire Marshal Michael Roark made a recent visit to the alleyway to assess any potential public safety concerns.

With the overhead lighting and pedestrian traffic in addition to the upcoming influx of young people due to Pfeiffer’s new downtown campus, Dulin said: “I think it’s a positive effort to move the city forward.”

Brewton said the lighting and controlling the access with the posts “protects the citizens” and makes for a safe gathering place for people to enjoy outdoor activities.

The parking spaces that exist in the alleyway will be relocated to the King lot and additional spots will be added beside Mark Lowder’s office building, Misenheimer said.

Council told Misenheimer to reach out to the surrounding business owners to get their opinion regarding the logistics of the project, especially in relation to deliveries.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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