Pulaski Town Council – after lengthy discussion Tuesday evening – approved a resolution amending the Special Exceptions permitted in the B-3 Central Business District to permit apartments on the ground floor of mixed-use buildings.
Both council and the Pulaski Planning Commission held a joint public hearing on a request by Luke Allison of Aggregate Capital / 37 West Main LLC to amend zoning language to allow ground floor apartments as a Special Exception.
Previously ground floor apartments were prohibited on the ground floor of mixed-use buildings in the commercial district.
According to a case overview provided council by Brady Deal, Zoning Administrator for the town, Allison made the zoning amendment request while working with the Virginia Housing Development Authority and the state Department of Housing and Community Development to secure grant funding for a project at 37 West Main Street in the former Pulaski Pawn building.
Both agencies recommended the project utilize more of the building space for housing.
At the same time, Allison and his team were being informed by multiple community members of the interest seniors had in living downtown. However, many of these individuals are unable to because of concerns surrounding daily use of stairs necessary to access second floor apartments.
The former pawn shop currently has a store front of 5,475 square feet and an additional 2,775 square feet of storage on the ground floor in the rear. A second floor includes 5,475 square feet of storage area.
The project as proposed would leave the store front for commercial use and would serve as the new home of Pulaski On Main, which Allison said would be the driving force behind foot traffic and business on Main Street. The rest of the space would feature movable dividers to allow for custom booth sizes that allow vendors to rent a space that fits their businesses’ needs.
The 2,775 square feet on the ground floor in the rear along the Creek Walk would be used for three apartments – two more than originally planned and be accessible only from the creek side of the building.
The entire second floor would be transformed into seven apartments – three facing Main Street and four on the Peak Creek side. Allison said his group is preparing and planning for roof-top patios on the four apartments on the rear and a larger community patio area available for all tenants of the building.
Deal stressed the intention of the hearings was not to grant the applicant approval for the Special Use, but to amend wording of the zoning to allow ground floor apartments in the business district as a Special Exception.
Allison would still have to request the Special Exception, which council and the planners would again have to review.
The Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the zoning change. Council eventually approved the request on a 4-1 vote with Councilman Lane Penn voting against. Penn advocated tabling the matter for further study.
Also Tuesday, Monica Musick made her annual presentation to council on Pulaski Area Transit funding.
The Transit Manager responded to questions and issues raised by council and Town Manager Darlene Burcham, including a concern that bus drivers are too often slowing down at bus stops rather than stopping to give passengers time to walk to the bus.
In the end, council again approved Musick’s request for level funding for the PAT of $70,000 for the transit’s next fiscal year. The transit also receives funds from the county as well as the state and federal governments.
In councilmember comments, Mayor Shannon Collins briefed council on remarks he made last week at a Chamber of Commerce function where he reported CARES Act funding that has been distributed in the town, the hiring of Town Manager Darlene Burcham, Social Media Manager Jordan Whitt and Deal.
He again thanked the county for providing the CARES Act funds.
“It’s been a very trying first year of my first term, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Collins said. “I love it.”
“I think the town has been doing very well. I appreciate Darlene more than she knows,” he said. “She’s gotten a lot of things started that have been good – things that aren’t seen by the public all the time. I wish people would remember that. Everything is not what you perceive on the outside. You have to see the things that are going on in the background too.
“There have been a lot of hard questions that have been asked, and she’s stood up to it, and I want people just to give her a chance because our town is a beautiful town, and we need to get it back how it was.
“Just give us all a chance, pray for our town because we’re doing wonderful things and we’re going to come back. I feel like Pulaski is like a phoenix – we’ve been down and we’re ready to rise out of the flames.
“I just want to thank her (Darlene), all the employees – I think we’ve got a really great crew here,” Collins said.
In the Town Manager’s Report, Burcham responded to Collins’ comments.
“The community often misunderstands the roles of all of us sitting here in the meeting tonight,” she said.
“The mayor, because he has ceremonial responsibilities, he’s seen out a lot. Your town manager, whoever that might be, just because that person is the one implementing the council’s policies – not making the decisions but implementing them –they (citizens) don’t always understand and appreciate that the town manager really doesn’t – or shouldn’t – do anything that council doesn’t support or approve.
“I would be interested in the council at some future time sharing with Jordan and I ways that we can somehow educate the public in a better way to understand what the process is. That this is a council – manager form of government and the council is the legislative body.
“It really is all of us working together and I was pleased the mayor mentioned the staff because in the time that I have been here I believe the staff has been very responsive to a lot of changes that I have made and a lot more that I will make,” Burcham said.
She mentioned a couple more changes in the offing – requiring new-hires go with direct deposit and automation of the check writing function.
“We’re adapting to change and trying to find efficiencies.”
Burcham noted the town has hired a new Human Resources person who will start work Feb. 1 and added that council would be seeing an overhaul of the town’s personnel policies – the first since 2006.
Burcham also told council that she hopes to soon have a rough draft of a capital improvement plan for multiple years.
She added the town has prepared town buildings and staff in every way it can to make sure employees and citizens are safe. She noted the ductwork in the Municipal Building was cleaned over the holiday weekend and the Senior Center has been closed temporarily due to issues with its heating and ventilation system.
“We’re looking at possibly relocating that to an alternate location once we can determine the extent of the work that needs to be done. Amy (Hopkins), who does an admirable job with her seniors, called each of them today and made them aware of the closure and we will keep them involved and knowledgeable,” Burcham said.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot