City_COUNCIL (copy)

At a previous City Council meeting, Mark Finks, theater manager for Court Square Theater, gave a presentation about the theater at the meeting. 

1. Council’s vision becoming a reality

The year 2039 may seem far away, but City Council is already mapping out the next two decades of Harrisonburg’s future.

City staff identified 29 actionable priorities to kick off the first three years of the Council’s vision. 

City Manager Eric Campbell reviewed the team’s annual presentation of its accomplishments and progress. He said he estimates that city staff is 29% through their three-year workload.

The team charted 72 projects to tackle the Council’s priorities list — 21 are already completed, 44 are in progress and 7 haven’t yet commenced.

Campbell highlighted several ongoing projects, including the expansion of the language access plan, which provides translation services at Council meetings, and Launch Harrisonburg, a program that trains local entrepreneurs. Launch Harrisonburg’s inaugural batch of future business owners began classes last week.

The city manager also detailed a few finished projects, one being the monthly community walks during which police, firefighters and public works staff connect with residents of local neighborhoods. Another completed project is the city’s color bus system for JMU routes implemented last August.

All 72 projects are nested under six focus areas the Council developed at a retreat last year. Those goals include transforming Harrisonburg into “a city for all” regardless of residents’ heritage, culture, language or economic status and an “educational epicenter.” The plan also emphasizes developing the city economically, furnishing all residents with housing and enhancing city services.

Mayor Deanna Reed expressed her gratitude for Campbell’s presentation and the clarity it may give community members on the state of the city.

“Sometimes, we feel like things are not happening [in city government], but it takes time,” Reed said.

2. Impact of three Habitat for Humanity properties doubles

Council voiced uniform approval for rezoning requests on three Habitat for Humanity properties.

The Central Valley Habitat for Humanity chapter sought the zone modification from “R2 residential district” to “R8 small lot residential” so it could build duplexes on the land. Now, the organization can house six families rather than three on the property.

“Double the homes, double the hope,” David Wenger, the executive director of Central Valley Habitat for Humanity, said.

Habitat for Humanity acquires land for seven new homes

This is the city’s first property approval under the new R8 zoning class. Last year, Council added the zoning option, which allows smaller homes on smaller lots, to give lower income and first-time home buyers increased affordable housing options.

Wenger said the organization has built 65 homes for community members who are struggling to purchase one. He said he estimates that half of those homes were built within city limits.

The plots are located in a residential neighborhood on Route 42, four blocks behind The Little Grill Collective. Each parcel is approximately 6,250 square feet, equating to approximately 18,750 square feet of total rezoned land area.

Both the city staff and the planning commission unanimously recommended that the Council approve the rezoning request. Director of Community Development Adam Fletcher cited that recasting the property is compliant with the city’s comprehensive plan, which stresses the importance of strengthening existing neighborhoods with a range of housing options.

Wenger said the local Habitat for Humanity chapter triggers “ripple outcomes” that affect the city’s potential to help more people.

“We see this only as a first step to what can — we hope — be an ongoing relationship to address the needs of the people in the city of Harrisonburg,” Wenger said.

3. Upcoming community events

The Council unanimously approved five permits for upcoming special events. Erin Smith, the events manager for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, presented the calendar.

The first event will take place in two weeks. “Sunday Funday” is a 1K race for community members of all skill levels. Participants can run or walk the 0.62-mile race and cool down afterward with beverages from Brothers Craft Brewery, where the race starts and ends. The event requires the partial closure of East Washington Street on Feb. 23 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.. The estimated cost of the event is $240.

On April 18, attendees can choose between two events.

The “5K Run/Walk for Autism” is in its 13th year of raising money to support families in the region impacted by autism. Approximately 1,000 participants and spectators are expected to attend the race that begins and ends on EMU’s campus. It will cost between $870 and $1,020 to facilitate.

Also that Saturday, music will ebb from the Turner Pavilion from 3 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. at the “Rocktown Beer and Music Festival.” The annual event in its 10th year draws between 3,000 to 3,500 participants and will cost between $3,680 and $4,430.

Jumping to October, the annual “Race to Beat Breast Cancer 5K” will circle Westover Park for the 18th year. On Oct. 17, between 900 and 1,000 participants are expected to attend. Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation anticipates the event costing between $660 and $1,040.

Candy-loving kids can look forward to the “Skeleton Festival,” which will feature trick-or-treating at downtown businesses. The event will be on Oct. 24 in Court Square and will potentially draw between 3,000 and 4,000 people to roam the streets of the city. The supposed cost is $3,600.

“You just went through three seasons,” Reed said when Smith concluded her presentation.

Contact Brice Estes at estes2ba@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.