CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today, parking lots have replaced some historic buildings in downtown Charleston, many thoroughfares no longer have a strong pedestrian presence, and vacant storefronts dot the urban landscape.
Dan Vriendt, director of the Charleston Planning Department, hopes to reverse the trend.
On Thursday afternoon at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Vriendt unveiled a draft of the "Imagine Charleston" plan -- a bold proposal to reshape and revitalize the city.
Consultants from LSL Planning and MKSK have spent the last 18 months conducting countless focus groups and interviews that they condensed into the plan revealed Thursday.
The plan addresses four central issues -- neighborhood and land use; transportation and infrastructure; quality of life; and the downtown.
According to Bradley Strader, president of LSL Planning, Charleston needs vibrant neighborhoods and better housing options to attract a variety of inhabitants.
Craig Gossman, a lead planning consultant with MKSK, agreed that housing should be the top priority as the city considers revitalization.
"We really feel very strongly that Charleston's housing stock must be elevated," Gossman said.
Strader wants to make more apartments and homes available for renters. These houses could attract seniors, who need homes with wide hallways and fewer stairs, and students, who might gravitate toward low-rent apartments downtown or near the ballpark.
"We have to think of rental housing in a positive way," Strader said.
Strader also argued that the city should alter existing land use patterns.
Today, Charleston has too much land devoted to commercial establishments, Strader said. That policy has left vacant storefronts throughout the city.
Mixed-use housing could ease that problem, Strader said.
He envisions downtown retail establishments that house people on the second or third floors. The proposal would increase population density downtown and encourage pedestrian traffic and nightlife, Strader said.