Dover residents, especially those living near the new west side transit center, are invited to a series of public meetings to determine how the area will develop over the coming years.

By the end of the week, a group of planning experts hope to have a working plan for how the neighborhood around Dover’s new west side transit center will develop over the coming years.

Right now, the area is a hodgepodge of different types of buildings and uses, said Dover’s Director of Planning and Inspections Ann Marie Townshend.

But the area could galvanize around the new DART bus station under construction at the corner of Water and Queen streets.

After a week’s worth of intensive planning meetings and design sessions intended to solicit input and suggestions from the community, officials should have a pretty good idea of what kinds of buildings, businesses and housing options residents want to see take root in the neighborhood as it develops.

The parade of intensive design meetings will culminate with the release of architectural renderings meant to show the community and prospective developers the kinds of buildings that are well suited to the area.

In the land use world, this whirlwind planning process is known as a charette.

Pronounced “shur-et,” the term likely comes from the arts schools of 19th-century Paris, where design students often worked on their projects up to the last minute, even as they rode to class on carts known as charettes.

The Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization will team up with two outside consultants, plus the city of Dover and the Downtown Dover Partnership on the transit center charette, which encompasses the area bounded to the east by State Street, to the west by the railroad tracks, to the north by Loockerman Street and to the south by South Street.

“This charette process is taking a defined area of a relatively manageable size and speculating on what development pressure is going to be in the neighborhood if the transit center becomes a focus of attention,” said Jim Galvin, principal planner for the Dover/Kent MPO. “At transit stops, there’s some significant development both in terms of residential and commercial. We call it a Transit Oriented Development pattern.”

Galvin said while Dover might not yet be ripe for the kind of development that springs up around, for example, a commuter train station in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., it could some time in the future.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in 30 years? Is Dover going to be in position to support that kind of development? That’s why we're taking a look at that neighborhood now,” he said.

Gregory Moore’s Dover architectural and engineering firm Becker Morgan Group is one of the consultants that will work on the charette.

He said the process’ collaborative nature is good for the end product: a unified design plan for the area.

“A charette process brings multiple people together that might have different backgrounds, it allows multiple ideas to be thrown on the table and [we try] to create a template or form from that,” he said

In addition to providing background on the area and information about its zoning status, Becker Morgan will work with Virginia-based Renaissance Planning Group on the final drawings.

A set of drawings showing specific types of buildings on specific sites in the transit center area, also known as a pattern book, is great material to show prospective developers, Moore said.

“First of all, we’re presented probably with the worst economic times we’ve seen in my lifetime. I think it’s important that people understand that development and developers are almost at a standstill,” said Moore, who also serves as president of the Downtown Dover Partnership. “What we’re hoping we get from this charette and the specific plans we’re talking about on these parcels are tools that help us bring developers in.”

Townshend, the Dover planning chief, said the architectural renderings from the charette will be a much more effective way of showing what the community wants built in the area, as opposed to complicated zoning and property regulations.

“Rather than be driven by how far you can be from the property lines and how tall you can go, it would be more visually driven by what it’s going to look like and what the purpose is going to be,” she said. “I certainly think it’s more easy to understand.”

Bill Neaton is executive director of the DDP, which is piggybacking on the charette and soliciting ideas and conceptual drawings for four pieces of property it owns in the downtown corridor.

He envisions the neighborhood around the transit center as a blend of shops, services and housing, all within walking distance of each other and the transit hub.

“The things we’ve been talking about for years is mixed use — retail on the first and second floors and nice apartments. The key is having people live downtown,” he said. “A lot of doctors’ offices have left that area and moved into [Eden Hill Medical Center], so there’s a lot of potential for redevelopment.”

Creating a thriving, mixed use neighborhood with easy access to public transportation is like finding El Dorado for city planners.

“Not everybody wants to live in a single-family house; having a transit center there is an opportunity for people to live, shop and have a way to get to work,” Galvin said.

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