Jan 24, 2007, 5:45 AM
I had started a thread on Hermitage's Town Center project awhile back, but apparently it's been driven into oblivion.
Hermitage (pop. approx. 15k) is part of the Sharon MSA (pop. 120k) in northwest PA along the Ohio border (Mercer County). Hermitage is a community of anonymous sprawl adjacent to the city of Sharon. It's wealthier and has all the big box retailers. Now Hermitage is attempting to transform its sprawltopia into a real town. I found these renderings on an architect's website (Strada LLC).
from the site:
CLIENT: MERCER COUNTY REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION
The project is a community-based planning project to address a common problem: the anonymous nature of suburbs. The goal is to establish a memorable town center for the City of Hermitage; one that creates a unique identity based on a walkable, mixed-use community. The project is focused on the intersection of Rt. 18 (Hermitage Blvd.) and Rt. 62 (State St.), but will extend out beyond that to a wider area to foster connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. The plan will allow the town to: establish itself as a memorable destination with a recognizable and unique character; create a common public space at the heart of the community; define gateways and entries that clearly delineate a downtown district with a sense of arrival and place; focus new development efforts to create walkability within the downtown through mixed-use redevelopment and streetscape improvements that create connectivity between the various pieces of the downtown.
Jan 24, 2007, 10:32 PM
Impressive. Thanks for telling us about this project.
Feb 2, 2007, 2:57 AM
A city of the future?
Study: Everything old is new again
By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
An historical farming community, Hermitage’s emergence as Mercer County’s center of commercial and residential growth in recent decades has occurred along the lines of many municipalities developed in the post-World War II era.
Residential and commercial areas are segregated, forcing most people to drive to get to a grocery store, specialty shop, or even a convenience store.
In a case of everything old is new again, a study of the Hermitage Road-East State Street area is recommending that city officials look back to the way cities grew in the 1800s: grids of streets, residential, commercial and office uses next to and within each other, and pedestrian traffic shown the same deference as vehicular.
The study’s vision is not one that can simply be implemented by the city government officials, and cannot be done quickly in any case, but consultant Michael A. Stern said it can be done.
No sense of place
The Hermitage Town Center study, conducted by Strada Architecture LLC of Pittsburgh and funded by a PennDOT grant to Mercer County Regional Planning Commission, noted that the business center of the Shenango Valley has moved from downtown Sharon, with its history and walkability, east on East State to Hermitage Road, the intersection of major state routes 18 and 62.
The intersection is the heart of the city’s commercial and business community, but it doesn’t look like it’s the heart of anything, with crosswalks that lead to no sidewalks, a sea of unlandscaped parking lot on the corner of the Shenango Valley Mall and recently widened roadways.
“That could be a picture of almost anywhere in the United States,” Stern said of the Hermitage-East State intersection.
To truly be the sentimental heart of Hermitage, the intersection and its surrounding area must establish a sense of community and a sense of place, the report said.
The area has elements of being a community center in that there are important commercial, business, government and civic facilities, but they are generally cut off from the city’s residential areas, and most people have to drive to get to any of them.
The plan asks city officials to strive to make the area look more like an urban center, a place where people live, walk to work, a restaurant or a shop, and attracts outsiders with its commercial and entertainment offerings.
Hermitage Road has churches, schools, city offices and the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory, but it also features “an overly wide street that looks more like a highway than a central street running through the center of a thriving community,” the report said.
The report, released Tuesday, recommends replacing concrete medians with planted ones; making intersections pedestrian-friendly; building sidewalks and landscaped buffers between sidewalks and buildings; and adding lighting designed for both vehicles and pedestrians.
The road needs bicycle lanes, a lower speed limit, and new signals to aid pedestrians, the report said.
The plan also calls for new buildings to be built closer to the street with parking behind them, and redeveloping Hermitage Middle School, which will be closed sometime the next school year, as a community center.
The changes would make the road “a boulevard with a civic presence,” the report said.
East State Street
The plan targets the two blocks west of Hermitage Road for transformation into a “main street style shopping district,” using some of the same principles identified for Hermitage Road.
One of the main differences is the development of new street connections, some using streets that were planned for years ago but never built, to help relieve some of the congestion of East State and give locals ways to get around the main drags.
The report encourages buildings to have glass storefronts for window shopping and tables on the sidewalks of restaurants and cafes.
A symbol of the city
A key symbolic improvement is eyed at the intersection of Hermitage Road and East State. The plan calls for a circular path of sidewalks, trees and signs, and relocating utilities.
Unlike other parts of the plan, this project would not rely on others, such as private developers, to come to fruition.
“The new design requires changes only in the public right of way, meaning that it could be implemented as soon as the city has the money to do so,” the plan says. “This would be a catalyst for widespread change, proving that the community is serious about transformation.”
The plan also calls for allowing buildings that have commercial and retail uses on the bottom floor, and residential or office uses on upper floors; building apartments and town houses near existing single-family homes to help connect the older neighborhoods to the center of town; building parks and other common space; building new streets with specific landscaping requirements; and connecting and extending existing streets.
So-called big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Lowe’s still could be allowed in the center of town, but with requirements that out parcels — such as smaller retail shops anchored by the big retailer — be built along the road, storm water retention ponds be landscaped, streets be connected to the shopping area, and buffers be built between residential sections and other incompatible uses.
One of the natural characteristics of the area that is almost totally overlooked is the stream system. The plan recommends restoring open stream channels through natural measures seen elsewhere in the city and building trails along them, and cutting open the sections of parking lot that cover the streams at the Shenango Valley Mall and Hermitage Square Plaza. So-called “day lighting” of the buried stream also would help alleviate flooding.
As part of the plan, Strada conducted a market assessment of Hermitage that showed a stable but not quickly growing economy, moderate income levels and stable population. The assessment shows it is unlikely that a large-scale developer would be willing to come in and build a town center, which has occurred in other areas, and that the plan cannot be implemented quickly, Stern said. It can be done in parts, some of which can be done independently of others.
“It’s an evolutionary process to get there,” said Stern, who estimated a minimum of 10 years.
But, it’s something that can begin right away, he said. The first steps could include examining the zoning ordinance and possibly creating special zoning districts, talking with PennDOT and property owners about the vision for the city’s future, planning new street connections and assessing the priorities of community members.
Not all elements of Strada’s report needs to be undertaken for the basic concept to work, Stern said.
Through legislation and the commencement of public projects, city officials would set an example for developers.
“Developers play by the rules,” the plan says. “If the tools are in place, the developer’s end product will align with the vision established by the Steering Committee.”
It’s important to realize that developers still are interested in the area, as the new Wal-Mart Supercenter and the under-construction Home Depot attest, the report said.
Stern also pointed out that some aspects of the plan, such as relocating and burying utilities, will be very difficult to make happen.
The biggest challenges will be redeveloping existing properties, convincing property and business owners to make significant changes to these properties, he said.
“You control the things you can control, you plan for the things you can’t control,” Stern said.
Part of what supporters of the plan must overcome is the inability of some people to make the jump from what is there to what could be.
Looking at plans for the Hermitage Road-East State intersection, Commissioner Larry Gurrera asked, “What’s gonna make me want to walk there?”
Hermitage School Board member Jane Levine Matusick asked if the plan will make companies such as Starbucks and The Gap want to come to Hermitage.
Stern said such companies like growing areas, which is a strike against Hermitage. But, Starbucks is looking to expand and the envisioned town center might catch the attention of company officials.
If you create a character, Starbucks wants to be a part of it,” Stern said.
Many other communities are striving to create what is envisioned in the plan, he said.
Quality of life
City Director of Planning and Development Marcia A. Hirschmann said many companies looking to relocate are seeking areas with a high quality of life — places where their executives and employees will want to live.
Stern said a Sharon Regional Health System official was “emphatic” about the importance of quality of life in recruiting doctors and other medical professionals.
The model on which Hermitage has been built for so long is passé,” Stern said.
“Developers aren’t building malls anymore. They’re building lifestyle centers like that,” he said, referring to illustrations in the plan. “They’re creating main streets to create a town they can’t find.”
Hermitage Planning Commission Chairman Charles E. Rogers said parts of the plan already are happening, from the sidewalk and landscaping requirements on new developments to the commission pressing Wal-Mart Supercenter developers to put up a nicer looking building than had been planned.
Buildings built closer to the street — think Bob Evans Restaurant on South Hermitage Road — already is permitted in parts of the commercial section of town.
City treasurer and tax collector Bernie Telega Harry said she supported the plan.
“I think we do need a character,” she said. “We do need to start somewhere.”
Resident Shawn Cozad of Rexford Drive commended city officials for the plan.
“Beautiful,” he said, “if it happens.”
The plan, which is available at www.hermitage.net, will go to the city and Mercer County regional planning commissions for review, and then to commissioners for action.
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