Duncan: A Small Town with Big Plans

When you are traveling on I-85, exit 63 might be just another exit with a Cracker Barrel and a QT to get a meal and a fill-up and get back on the road. Or, for others, it may be where they spend their work day, in one of the many office/industrial parks within a couple of miles of the exit.

But travel west on Route 290, and you'll find the little downtown area of Duncan. It's a small downtown, to be sure, but current revitalization efforts aim to make five blocks of the downtown a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly destination, with streetscaping and pocket parks.

Ryan Cothran, Duncan police chief and town manager, says the goal is not to use any taxpayer funds to pay for the project. For the planning phase, funding came from the Mary Black Foundation and private donors to create a master plan, developed by the Charlotte, NC-based design firm, Stewart, Inc.

Sherry Barrett of Upstate Forever approached town officials in an effort to see how Duncan could be more walkable and bikable. The Mary Black Foundation funding that comes through Upstate Forever specifically targets policies and places to advance active living, walking, and biking and the Duncan downtown project is a good match. The master plan, when successfully implemented, will revitalize and strengthen the downtown area through an emphasis on active living.

To promote active living, zoning ordinances had to be reviewed, and the area that will be enhanced under the new plan is called a pedestrian overlay district--meaning that the priority for regulations for development is: Does it contribute to improved pedestrian activity? The streetscaping creates public spaces to promote pedestrian activity, and the zoning overlay addresses private spaces, and how they, too, will contribute to that aim.

In June, the town hosted Better Block Duncan to demonstrate to the public how the block in front of the town hall will look with the completed streetscaping and pocket park. The event included live music, a bicycle rodeo, and a pop-up marketplace with the Hub City Farmers Market, a bike safety demonstration, and more.

The town is working with the Appalachian Council of Governments to find appropriate grants to fund the work needed to complete the proposed streetscaping and pocket parks, and Cothran says that District Five Sports Activities Council, which sits on the lot where one of the two pocket parks will be, has the ability, as a nonprofit, to pursue different grants than the town can.

The completion of the projects will happen in phases--the first grant, which is still in the application process, will cover streetscaping for three of the five blocks, but the pocket park in front of the doesn't fit the parameters of that grant, so it will have to happen in a later phase.

In the meantime, Upstate Forever and the town will hold a two-day series of workshops for both key stakeholders and for the public on September 9-10. The workshop is titled, "Community Design: Downtown Duncan and Beyond," and the focus will expand from the downtown area to all sectors of Duncan. Three public meetings will be from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on the two evenings, and a daytime meeting will be held at 2:00 p.m on Tuesday, the 10th, for those members of the community who can't make it out for an evening session.

All public workshop sessions will be held at Duncan First Baptist (103 E. Main Street; park and enter at the Welcome Center). Appointed town officials who attend the Tuesday daytime session will receive 1.5 hours of CEU credit. The first public session will be wrapped into the regular town council meeting, and the second will include recommendations from the consultants. The public sessions will explain zoning types, give an overview of the plans, and seek community feedback.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.