AVON — Planning commissioners approved a plan Tuesday to add a new walking mall to the community, a pathway they hope will lead to a more pedestrian-friendly town.
The walkway will run from east to west, connecting the commercially vibrant East Avon district to the cultural potential that exists at Nottingham Park, according to the plan. The “Avon Mall,” as it’s being called, will run between Benchmark Road, Avon Station (the town’s transit center) and Lettuce Shed Lane.
The plan is a reload of an idea already examined by the Avon Planning and Zoning Commission in 2011 and 2012, however it was stalled at that time as an incipient real estate deal involving one of the lots adjacent to the project was coming into fruition. That lot was indeed sold and is now being developed into a 58-unit, high-end timeshare resort by Wyndham Worldwide.
With Wyndham fully onboard as a supporter of the project and the World Alpine Ski Championships coming to nearby Beaver Creek in February of 2015, the time to develop the Avon Mall is now, Virginia Egger, town manager, said on Tuesday.
“The town has planned to do this project and had even bid it out, but they stopped, smartly, to let Wyndham build,” she said.
TIMED WITH EAST AVON
But the Wyndham project and the 2015 Championships aren’t all that’s spurring the construction of Avon’s new pedestrian mall.
In August, Osprey Capital, the commercial real estate holding company of the Hoffmann family, of Chicago, purchased a large amount of commercial property in the area known as East Avon, including Nottingham Station, Chapel Square, the Annex and the Christy Sports building.
The Hoffmann family has stated they have plans for a major redevelopment of the area, including new businesses, public art, a bowling alley and movie theater.
“When that buyer came in, we said ‘Oh my God, we have got to get ready to match what’s going on in East Avon,’” Egger said. “The biggest change that’s happened in Avon in a long time is the acquisition of East Avon. The amount of money going into restaurants, new retail, pedestrianization, bronzes (and) walkability, is pronounced.”
The pedestrian mall will allow residents and visitors to walk from that commercial area in East Avon to the family and cultural accommodations that exist in Nottingham Park.
“We are what we are — we’re bifurcated by the roundabouts. But this is a strong attempt to create entry points to the east and west,” Egger said.
The plan calls for the sidewalk leading into the pedestrian mall, on the north side of Benchmark Road, to be widened significantly to create a stronger connection between East Avon, Avon Road and the new pedestrian mall.
BRONZE COWBOY TO MOVE
While the pedestrian mall was all that received approval on Tuesday, the ultimate plan also includes major improvements to Avon Road.
Bike lanes; stone pillar bike route trailhead markers; enhanced-accent landscape areas at all roundabouts; enhanced median landscapes with trees, native grasses and angular boulders; brick median and roundabout borders with stone; traffic calming colored and textured pavement; and bike symbol pavement markings are a few of the changes in store for the major road through town.
A new “Avon Town Center identity monument” at roundabout No. 4 is also included in the plan. That means Herb Mignery’s “Checkmate,” the large, bronze statue of a cowboy on horseback that is currently in the center of roundabout No. 4, would have to be moved. The plan is to relocate “Checkmate” to the south end of the new mall entry, just west of where it is now, although planning commissioners weren’t fully committed to that idea on Tuesday.
Commissioner Tab Bonidy said he’d rather see “Checkmate” in the center of the new entryway, rather than at the south end of it.
“It’s such a strong focal point, if you really want people to walk around it, put it where people will walk around it,” he said.
RETURN OF BALLOT ISSUE 2A?
With the relocated “Checkmate” piece marking the eastern entry point, the Avon Recreation Center will represent the western side of the new mall.
Ballot issue 2A, a plan to expand the rec center through an increase in property taxes, was killed by voters in November. But officials in Avon are hoping the idea is resurrected, possibly in November of 2014.
“I hope we put on the ballot next year the rec center expansion,” Avon Mayor Rich Carroll said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of opportunity to really do a better job with that ... I think there’s a lot we can do down the road.”
The plans for the new Avon Pedestrian Mall are accounting for the possibility of the rec center expansion.
START AFTER JULY 4TH
The plan will cost a little more than $2 million and is in Avon’s budget for 2014. About $700,000 will come from the town’s urban renewal authority fund, and the remainder will come from the real estate transfer taxes in Avon’s capital fund. With planning commission approval, the plan does not need to go before Avon’s town council.
A design-for-bid document is expected to be finalized by March; once it’s complete the project will be bid on by prospective developers. Construction would then begin about 60 days later.
“My only concern with this whole project is if we don’t get started soon enough,” Commissioner Phil Struve said Tuesday.
Landscape architect Pedro Campos, of Zehren and Associates, the firm that’s assisting the town of Avon with the project’s design, said one of the benefits of the project’s timing is the opportunity to work in tandem with the development of the Wyndham project.
“The idea right now is this work would start right after the Fourth of July,” said Campos. “The Wyndham would be far enough along doing some of their exterior work, probably some of their landscaping ... and by the fall those areas would be merged together.”
The Avon Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to discuss the Avon Road portion of the plan at their Jan. 21 meeting.