November 24th, 2021

Big Business League Meeting Discusses Streetscape Changes in Long Branch

Streetscape improvements dominated the agenda at the Long Branch Business League’s very well-attended meeting this Oct. 7th.

What streetscape improvements are these?

According to the DHCA’s Kristina Ellis, the guest speaker, Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Rd. are set to receive improved sidewalks, better landscaping and, potentially, new street furniture.

Exactly what these upgrades will look like, however, is still up for consideration.  Ellis’s meeting with the local business owners was an early step in the process of getting answers to a series of very practical questions. 

For example:  Which sidewalk materials should be used:  brick, pavers, traditional smooth cement, or some combination of the above?   The consensus from the meeting seemed to be: ‘all of the above.’

Should the sidewalk near Veronica’s Café be widened into a plaza by taking over some of the parallel parking spaces on Flower Ave.?  Here the consensus was less clear. Pros and cons to both options were voiced.

Or what about installing permanent outdoor seating: is it appropriate to current conditions in the commercial area, and if so, where?  Some business owners voiced concerns about such seating being occupied by the same people who have taken over area bus stops, turning them into impromptu clubhouses.

Kristina Ellis, a senior planning specialist at the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, explained that the planning process is still at an early stage.   An Architecture and Engineering firm still needs to be hired.  After that, the process of planning and outreach and exploration of options will take time.  It will likely be some two years, Ellis explained, before anything gets built.

All the same, the many participants in the Oct. 7 meeting, which took place in the pleasant outdoor patio at El Gavilan Restaurant (8805 Flower Ave.), had many early recommendations.

Siu Wong, owner of Takoma Laundry (8435 Piney Branch Rd.), said she thought parking was already in short supply, and that existing spots should be removed only with great care.

Eddy Campos, co-owner of Veronica’s Café, said he would like to see changes to what he termed the ‘brutalist architecture’ in the area.  Instead of eliminating parking spaces, he proposed putting electric car charging stations in some of the spots near his café.  He also urged finding new approaches to engaging with the homeless, since the old approach “hasn’t worked.”

Paul Grenier, from MHP, and assistant to Councilmember Tom Hucker Upneet Atual, both urged the business community to consider the transformative impact of good design.  If the urban design is good enough, it will pull new customers into commercial Long Branch — even if parking is not always super convenient.

Ana Rivas, the owner of El Gavilan, expressed her concern about the poor lighting on Flower Avenue, especially near her restaurant.

In the end, Ellis cautioned against attempting to solve all of commercial Long Branch’s problems at once – and she noted that the scope of the streetscape project was insufficient to take on all of these concerns.

Nonetheless, the conversation served as a very useful steppingstone for defining an agenda for new officers of the Long Branch Business League.   Elections for LBBL President, VP, and Treasurer, plus two non-voting community positions, happen this November.