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CRA looks at future of Williston

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By Pat Hibbs

If you were asked to characterize the city of Williston in a few words, with an eye to maintaining its traditional character, what would you say?

What strikes you about the atmosphere of the center part of town that you would like to see reflected in new buildings or in the remodeling of existing buildings?

Since its founding, the Community Redevelopment Association has been struggling with solving that puzzle and now it is grappling with the conundrum again.

In the meantime, a lot has been accomplished within the central business district and surrounding residential / commercial areas.

The Linear Park, long a gathering place for townspeople and those from surrounding communities alike, has seen the addition of the gazebo at the north end, a welcoming sight to those visiting or just passing through the city. The more recent pavilion is the center for city celebrations large and small, from the busy Peanut Festival to a solemn remembrance on Veterans Day. Private groups also use its facilities.

The CRA was instrumental in the realization of the Johnny T. Henry Celebration Park on Northwest 1st Avenue, Its colorful playground is filled with laughing, chattering children throughout the day. Young adults, and older ones, use the recreational facilities all evening.

On a more practical level, the CRA has paid for the construction or repair of sidewalks in the downtown area, making the city more walkable.

During the 2007-2008 academic year, the CRA partnered with a University of Florida landscape architecture class to address the future of the Linear Park. The result was a plan for a pedestrian friendly park with paths, shaded seating areas, fountains and local plantings. Construction on the first block is scheduled to begin this summer.

But there's still the nagging question of how Williston should look in the longer-term future, and it's come to the forefront again.

David Connolly, Principal Planner with the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, presented a preliminary document to CRA members at their most recent meeting.

It acknowledges that Williston doesn't have an overriding "theme." Inglis, for example, has restricted development in order to maintain its identity as a fishing village. In Williston's case, the planning document states that "Williston's inherited character might be best described as an early 20th century railroad town," recognizing the town's "historical function as a primary marketplace for local agriculture and the timber industry."

CRA Chairman Ken Schwiebert pointed out at a recent meeting that three relatively new buildings in a small geographical area - Capital City Bank, the new Perkins State Bank and the First Baptist Church - demonstrate vastly different styles, yet all seem to fit nicely into the overall ambience of downtown Williston.

It is also notable that recent private development has maintained the character of surrounding properties. Dr. Schwiebert converted an old cracker house into his professional offices on Main Street and Sharon Brannan did the same in the building just next door. Brannan is also responsible for the rehabilitation of an old house on West Noble Avenue and its conversion into office space.

The new office plaza on South Main Street is designed to reflect the architecture of the old train depot in the center of town. And Williston Pediatrics, taking its cue from Schwiebert and Brannan, constructed a building in old cracker style that blends nicely into its surroundings.

The proposed design guidelines advocate consistency with existing surrounding buildings whenever remodeling or new construction is contemplated. In general, building orientation and setback should match the predominant characteristics of the neighborhood.

The use of quality local material and traditional craftsmanship is encouraged, and guidelines call for at least half of the non-glass faade of the structure to be of wood, stone or masonry.

The appearance of the faade of the building is an important element of its design. Developers are urged to avoid large, monotonous and empty wall surfaces, opting instead for use of textures, variations in building materials and awnings and plantings to provide visual interest. It is urged that colors relate to neighboring structures, and distracting color schemes (including primary or corporate schemes) are discouraged.

The use of awnings is suggested not only as an architectural feature, but to provide protective cover for pedestrians. Shapes and colors of awnings should be consistent with the building's features and those of surrounding structures.

Roofs should be of a style, shape and structure that reflects that of the neighboring buildings. Any mechanical or utility equipment should be placed on the roof and screened so as not be easily visible from the street.

The guidelines specify that pedestrian walkways, onsite parking, landscaping and exterior spaces must be adequately lighted, and recommends accent lighting as a security feature.

Landscaping is encouraged to "highlight a building's architectural character and better define the adjacent streetscape." Builders are urged to save mature trees when possible. If permanent landscaping is not practical, planter pots are a viable substitute.

These preliminary guidelines will be subject to discussion and modification in the course of the next few CRA meetings. As presented, however, they provide an outline for maintaining the feeling of Williston while encouraging commercial growth in the CRA district.

On this project in particular, the CRA encourages public participation in its discussions.. The CRA meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 5:15 p.m. in the city council chambers. Visitors are always welcome.

In addition, there is a vacancy on the CRA, which is available to any resident of Williston or the surrounding area who has interest in the city. Call Terry Summers at city hall, 528-3060 for further information and an application form.

Current members of the CRA are Dr. Ken Schwiebert, chairman, Nick Williams, vice chair, and Laura O'Connor, Earl Ogle, Jim Smith and Jessica Throckmorton.