Evesham officials and residents talk about downtown at ‘Visioning Workshop’

Residents shared their thoughts on what they see as the future of the downtown.

For the second time in less than a month, Evesham Township solicited input from residents about the future of its downtown with a special “Visioning Workshop.”

Residents gathered at the Gibson House Community Center this week to share their thoughts on what they like and don’t like about Evesham’s downtown, as well as what features they may want to see there in the future.

For the purposes of the workshop’s discussion, Evesham’s downtown runs east to west from East Main Street behind Marlton Greene to around the start of The Shoppes and Residences at Renaissance Square renovation project along North Locust Avenue.

From north to south, the downtown was segmented from Route 70 down North Maple Avenue to around Munger Avenue, then around the Evesham Township School District Administration Building and Marlton Recreation Council building, then around to Oak Avenue and South Locust Avenue.

Once again leading the study is Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK), the same architectural, planning and interior design firm that helped the township design its “2020 Vision Plan” in 2009.

That 2009 plan also solicited community input to identify multiple areas across the township where residents wanted to see change.

Just some of the areas residents identified in that first study that have since undergone redevelopment include the former Tri-Towne Plaza (now The Shoppes and Residences at Renaissance Square) the “old bank building” along Main Street (now the Main Street Apartments at Marlton) the former Evesham Township Municipal Building along Main Street (now the Gateway Apartment Complex) and the former Olga’s Dinner at the former Marlton Circle (a multi-story fertility clinic currently under construction).

Councilmember Ken D’Andrea said those accomplishments serve as a message to show that township officials were receptive to residents’ prior concerns and carried out their wishes.

“Now we want to take that same energy and just focus it straight on the downtown area and see what we can do to positively affect the direction in that area,” D’Andrea said.

Jim Constantine, a professional planner and principal at LRK, said the new study would serve as an update to the firm’s previous 2009 study, with a focus on the downtown, especially the intersection of Main and Maple Avenue.

At a previous vision workshop in mid-May set up during the Taste of Evesham, Constantine said his group heard many comments on how there aren’t enough civic gathering places and uses that would make Main Street more active.

For that, Constantine said the area had to be more walkable, which means a focus on parking so visitors would only park their cars once in the area and then walk to the rest of their multiple destinations.

To accomplish that goal, Constantine said one suggestion is to take several of the parking lots already in place behind existing locations on Main Street and connect them to create an easier flow and less congestion.

“When we compare Main Street and the Marlton village to other villages, the street network and some of the connection points aren’t as clear as they are in some other villages…that’s probably part of some of the traffic snarls that people complain about when getting caught on Main Street,” Constantine said.

The vision workshop also presented residents with several possibilities for future civic activities that could be developed downtown, all of which residents were receptive to.

“That’s probably also saying to some degree you (residents) are starved for wanting to have places you can just enjoy and stay longer,” Constantine said.

Such ideas included movies in parks, interactive art, a multipurpose lawn, a main square, a water feature, outdoor games, a beer garden and more.

“Can we take the open spaces that are there and activate them better? Can we create a new place that doesn’t exist today that can become a central gathering place? That’s a basic element of community planning,” Constantine said.