What’s Changed About Harrisonburg?

Brent Finnegan -- October 20th, 2010

This is the fourth installment in a Q&A series with Harrisonburg City Council candidates.

hburgnews.com reader Ross asks, “What’s one thing that’s changed about Harrisonburg that you wish hadn’t?”

Photo of Liberty Street before construction of the jail. Uploaded by Flickr user Marj1223.

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Joe Fitzgerald: The biggest change for the city that I wish hadn’t happened is the purchase of the local poultry companies by firms in the upper Midwest. That much change in control of the local economy is rarely for the good. But it’s a sign of how much and how quickly the city has grown. The change moved a lot of middle-level jobs to the Midwest. And now decisions about the Valley’s employment, industry and water supply are being made elsewhere. Plus there’s no longer a poultry parade. The changes affect the entire Valley, but are centered here because Harrisonburg is the capital of the Shenandoah Valley. Mostly, they affect the big picture of the Valley. Our heritage is in agriculture, but our future won’t be.

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Charlie Chenault: The long term, but temporary demise of downtown. In the late seventies and early eighties, downtown began its retreat with the construction of Valley Mall and the out properties that followed. Fortunately, downtown is coming back and will be better than ever. It certainly is from a restaurant and entertainment standpoint. Also, many more people live downtown now than before. We need to continue to recruit more retail and incubator types of businesses to make downtown full service and complete phases II and III of streetscape. Congratulations to the merchants, the City, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and those who live and shop downtown for making this happen. This has been a true collaboration.

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Carolyn Frank: By the time you reach my age you have experienced a lot of change. I’ve lived in Harrisonburg 30 years in 3 different parts of town. Change came to each area. Change comes, we love some of it, and we adjust to the rest. I’ve enjoyed my city in the good old days, and I’m really enjoying it now. I love my walks though the city, dining at local restaurants, shopping our many thrift store and buying good food at the Farmer’s Market. I did hate to see our high school move to the west edge of town, but JMU has done a splendid job with the facilities and Memorial Stadium. It was nice living close to RMH, especially when I had family members there; but the new hospital is wonderful and they now have room to grow. The old hospital is the perfect site for JMU to expand. Probably the one thing that most people would complain about is the stoplights and traffic. But, come May we even get a break from the traffic, until around August 20.

I really want to be a council person who plans for the future, while addressing the needs of today. I am thankful for the forward thinking leadership that we have had in the past. Long before we needed it, they planned and developed Switzer Dam for a water supply; same with our park system. They purchased land long before it was needed with the anticipation of growth. That planning gave us land to develop soccer fields on Smithland Road. I could name many more instances were long-range planning has given us opportunities for today.

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Ted Byrd: The one thing that has changed in Harrisonburg that I wish had not, would be the evolution of Downtown Harrisonburg. Growing up, Downtown was where you went to shop, eat, and take a date to see a movie. With the opening of the Valley Mall, which was originally in Rockingham County, economic forces began to change the landscape of Downtown. I am committed to making Downtown a destination stop for Valley residents. Currently, we have encouraged projects that allow for more people to work and live Downtown, as well as projects that bring people to shop and visit (Farmers Market Pavilion, Phase I Streetscape, The Arts Council of the Valley, and The Children’s Museum). The City’s partnership with Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has paid amazing dividends and I look forward to continuing to partner on projects that bring back the Main Street sense of community that we once had.

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Greg Coffman: Harrisonburg used to be known as “The City With The Planned Future.” This motto was dropped in the 80’s as I recall. Unfortunately, the lack of emphasis on planning has led to neighborhood security issues, negative impacts on property values, traffic concerns, and urban sprawl. With the city approaching build-out, there will be more pressure in the near future to rezone existing properties that may or may not be compatible to the surrounding neighborhoods. I’ve pledged to protect neighborhoods from unwanted rezoning that will negatively impact property values and lifestyles.

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Sal Romero: I am very content with the changes Harrisonburg has undergone in last twenty years since I came to the city both culturally and structurally. There is not one thing that has changed that I wish it hadn’t. I have seen how residential and commercial areas have developed across the city. The changes in demographics over the last two decades have also changed the appearance of Harrisonburg. I believe our city has a lot to offer to its citizens for its relative size. As city council member, I will support smart growth to our city that best fit the needs of the residents.

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All responses are listed unedited, in the order we received them.

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