This is the home page of The Rockbridge Advocate, a fine little news magazine based in a fine little portion of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You will find very little from the magazine on this page - why give away what we sell? Then again, you will find very little from this page in the magazine.
EXTRA! Lexington's Election
These are the responses from candidates for mayor and city council of Lexington to three questions. The questions and answers could not be fit into the paper, and rather than leave them on the cutting room floor..... This set does not include any of the 10 questions and answers which can be found in the October issue of the paper — questions on experience, chickens, the long-term sustainability of the city, flags, etc. The Rockbridge Advocate’s editor has the old-fashioned notion that you can’t stay in business giving by away the farm.
1) Diagonal Parking on Main Street?
Mary Harvey-Halseth: This is part of a bigger issue, which is how to make our downtown vibrant. Parking is not the issue but creating a positive business environment is. We need to recognize the value of our scenic beauty and historic assets and use them to draw in more tourists; they bring in revenue for the business owners and the city government. When the consultants hired by City Council come in and talk about diagonal parking or how large our parking spaces should be or how many people turn right off Nelson onto Main Street it means they have missed the point and are not focusing on the problem.
Mimi Elrod: When the discussions first began about downtown enhancement I mentioned diagonal parking. The idea was more or less an “out of the box” thought on my part after I saw how diagonal parking worked in other cities. It might work in Lexington, or it might not. It certainly is not a central factor for me in working to enhance our downtown.
John Mormon: We have a historic downtown which presents an individual charm while at the same time posing real, physical limitations on infrastructure. Diagonal parking, as a means of discussing some form of “downtown enhancement”, is perhaps a useful tool. As a reality, whether by accident or design, diagonal parking on Main St will reduce traffic to a single lane and is therefore impractical in my opinion. However, until we have sufficient funding after other priorities have been met, (Public Works, Police Department and teacher salaries?), is it something we should be considering?
Frank Friedman: After attending the public “brainstorming” meeting, I do not think the community embraces diagonal parking. The bump outs and wide sidewalks in Buena Vista have not worked to attract more businesses and pedestrians. I think the money budgeted could be better utilized. Is there money budgeted? Our community needs to keep thinking big and working to make the “Lexington Experience” a valuable one that keeps attracting neighbors and visitors alike.
Marylin Alexander: When this idea was presented months ago, I sat down with a Traffic Engineer to study this and we came to the quick conclusion that Main Street was not wide enough to have the clearance necessary for diagonal parking in conjunction with safe traffic flow on a main thoroughfare. To the best of my knowledge, that idea is no longer under consideration but it is the one everyone seems to remember most often!
Miller: It’s a non-issue. The transportation consultant who spoke at the recent community forum focusing on our downtown made it clear, if I understood correctly, there isn’t enough space to meet the requirements of both parking and maneuvering cars in and out of diagonal spaces. The bigger question is how we help ensure our downtown survives and thrives. The recent tourism study found that the number one tourism draw in our region is our downtown. Whatever we do, or don’t do, we must work to preserve the essence of what draws individuals and families into our community.
2) Name one or two things that each of the town’s two colleges can do to help make Lexington a better place.
Harvey-Halseth: Plan activities for alumni and parents week-ends in downtown. Set up shopping and dining trips as a part of a week-end at their respective university. Cooperate, not compete, with our downtown stores. It is in the best interests of both schools to have a range of profitable stores downtown. As of this writing, there are 13 empty storefronts in our city. The city cannot do this alone; we need a synergistic relationship with the two colleges to keep our stores alive. If our downtown fails it will have a serious negative effect on the two schools’ ability to recruit students. We must work together to make sure all of our entities not only survive, but thrive.
Elrod: The City benefits immeasurably from W&L and VMI, and we would not be the city we are without them. We are lucky to have them in the City and are fortunate that our relationships with them are good. But, there are ways in which each could help us. Washington and Lee could help by not competing with local merchants in regard to what they sell in The Store. VMI could help by regulating unauthorized cadet vehicles to relieve congestion on Main Street and on nearby neighborhood streets.
Mormon: I think the premise behind the question is misstated – the colleges already make Lexington a “better place”. I do feel that there are things that can be done to repair what has become a more adversarial relationship. For example, we have seen an erosion of the relationship between the schools and downtown business as the schools, (understandably), have sought to improve the profitability of their own stores, (not sure we can call them “bookstores” any longer), while virtually eliminating what school merchandise can be sold “off campus”. If the schools were prepared to have a discussion on the subject, this is something that could be resolved fairly simply. From a residents’ standpoint, continuing cooperation between the schools, students and alumni, covering everything from basic behavior to parking must continue and improve. The Police Department has made tremendous strides in this area, but we must all continue to work.
Friedman: Part of the educational experience at the colleges takes place with the faculty and staff. When new people choose to live in Roanoke, Staunton, and other places they do not support our real estate market and other stores. These same people tend not to fully engage in the college or greater community. A greater emphasis from the universities to ensure that faculty and staff live in the area and become an active member of the community through volunteer efforts, music, and worship would be beneficial. Keep in mind there are many folks like the Garvis and Straughan families (and others) that are fully engaged who set a great example and enrich our community and the college community where they work.
Alexander: Parking and housing have an effect on neighborhoods. We welcome the students to Lexington but student parking in the downtown and in neighborhoods pose a problem for residents. There was much disappointment when VMI took the parking garage off the Master Plan. Council approved the permit-parking ordinance as a tool to help manage parking problems in targeted neighborhoods. Student rentals and other rentals have totally changed the dynamic of the Green Hill/Diamond neighborhoods for example. However, it’s important to note how many houses would be empty and become blighted if there were housing alternatives on campus. The houses would be perfect for potential first time homebuyers but unfortunately many tend to prefer new houses. I look forward to the ongoing dialog between the city and the two schools as both issues continue to be addressed.
Miller: Washington & Lee and Virginia Military Institute have, in my opinion and from my seat on Planning Commission, worked diligently over the last twenty years to be good academic, community, and corporate citizens of Lexington. They have opened their doors to our community for cultural events. Both allow residents to use their libraries, tennis courts, and other facilities. They are responsive when we identify and communicate issues of concern surrounding their students and cadets (W&L students living in the community; VMI cadets parking in Diamond Hill). W&L students are leading efforts to provide meals to area residents in need. VMI cadets are, when asked, responsive in focused efforts to improve targeted areas in the City. That said, it would be wonderful if the institutions would jointly create annual community service projects for W&L seniors and VMI firsts. Perhaps the students and cadets could form a work group, solicit input from local non-profits about specific service needs, and create a clearinghouse for information to link volunteers with local needs. The students would enjoy the team projects, more areas of Lexington could be improved by their targeted work, and we, as citizens, would get to know our student neighbors better as they prepare to launch into new careers and graduate school. The second area that would be welcome would be to have both institutions provide additional voluntary funding (from their endowments) to Lexington to help offset the loss their non-profit and state designation creates to our tax base.
3) What is the smartest thing the current city council has accomplished?
Harvey-Halseth: Placed recycling bins downtown and at city parks. Enacted an urban deer hunting ordinance. Consistently protects the tax revenues it receives
Elrod: I think this City Council has accomplished quite a bit during my term as Mayor. Council is made of good people who work very hard for our City. One of the best things we have done was to move forward and support the renovation of the R.E. Lee building. We’ll have a full service hotel with a high number of guests downtown who will walk out the hotel door every day into our downtown.
Mormon: I personally believe the senior personnel changes the City has had to make have been tremendous. With absolutely the greatest regard in the world for the work done by their predecessors, who deserve great credit for jobs well done, I think the selections of Police Chief, Director of Public Works and Director of Planning have been excellent.
Friedman: The smartest thing City Council has accomplished is facilitating the sale and redevelopment of the Robert E. Lee Hotel. I was on council when the framework for this partnership began. The City showed great cooperation and I wish good luck to Ugo Benincasa (and partners) as they make the hotel a reality.
Alexander: There are several accomplishments at the top of my list but the one that stands out the most would have to be the LDMS renovation because it encompassed so many key initiatives: Richly enhanced the academic opportunities for our children, vastly improved the work environment for our teachers, long-term financial gain from the geo-thermal system and other green features, provided a neighborhood and the alumni to be part of the development phase, added vitality to a weakened neighborhood and it preserved an historic building in the process! How many projects can we name that will have such a positive impact on so many for years to come? We got it right and I’m so very proud to have been on the school board that implemented the idea and the council that supported and approved it!
Miller: Regarding legacy, Nelson Henderson writes “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” It’s unlikely any City Council or citizen can know the “smartest thing” accomplished until years later. Unfortunately, this Council has been presented with few opportunities to “plant trees” and far too many opportunities to dodge falling limbs (deer, dog parks, etc.).
The Advocate draws its material from the culture of Rockbridge County - the people, the news, the gossip, the troublemakers, and the way of life. Without the county, and without the kinks that make it unique, there would be no Advocate. The Advocate, then, shows the local color of one corner of the globe, something that some folks seem to be trying to stamp out or ignore these days most everywhere.
If your electronic wanderlust got you this far, you might be interested in a fine description of a battle the Rockbridge Militia fought against the British in the American Revolution, written by Odell McGuire and published in the Advocate in December of 1995. (History is big in Rockbridge County, especially the War Between the States.) Odell also described an invention of his called the Slidewhistle Mousetrap for the magazine in April 1993.You could also find out a bit about our colleges, our politics, or our mountains.
You may also be interested in the "global village" virtually erected in honor of our actual village, or the pages of the Rockbridge Regional Library or Lexington photos. We are stubbornly provincial, even as we concede that a few things might happen outside of Rockbridge County. The example of our hero has stimulated us to contemplate bold new ventures - maybe a sister publication in another fertile locale.
For the last 40 years (going on 41 next October, but who's counting), the editor has hosted a pioneering radio program called The Anti-Headache Machine every other Saturday night (it keeps him off the streets) on WLUR-FM, Lexington. The show airs from 8 PM until midnight, except when the station bumps it to broadcast a W&L basketball game. Through the wonders of the internet, the mostly vinyl music show (no news, no chat, no format, no requests) can now be heard by all the ships at sea.
Rockbridge Forum - Lively electronic discussion over any news that's fit to chat about. Do not click on this unless you are very, very brave.
Last edited November 23, 2013