In the 1960s, Sterling Park was the talk of the town. As one of the first planned communities in Loudoun County, it has the then-unusual convenience of a shopping center right next door. However, with newer planned communities, such as the Cascades, Countryside and Lowes Island, springing up, Sterling Park no longer looks as modern as it used to.
ÒWhat was once a community standard 40 years ago maybe has changed,Ó said M. E. Yancosek Gamble, the coordinator of Main Street Loudoun (MSL), a nonprofit organization.
Now, the planned community is aiming to get a face-lift.
Main Street Loudoun has brought its commercial growth and community revitalization program to the neighborhood, its first in eastern Loudoun County.
ÒWe are so pleased to be starting with Sterling Park,Ó said Yancosek Gamble. ÒThey seem to be right in the middle of a lot of good things."
THE STERLING FOUNDATION, a 15-year-old organization dedicated to the beautification of the neighborhood, invited MSL to present its comprehensive strategy for community revitalization June 30 to show residents and business owners how to use the communityÕs assets to their advantage.
Maureen Hein, vice chair of the Sterling Foundation, said her organizationÕs most recent endeavor is a professional landscaping project for a three-mile stretch of Sterling Boulevard funded by a federal matching grant.
However, local residents wanted much more than an attractive tree-lined median.
ÒWe heard from local citizens that they wanted us to look beyond the boulevard,Ó Hein said.
Residents sought help combating crime and promoting area business growth, Hein said, issues the Sterling Foundation was not equipped to handle.
ÒWe really just do the landscaping,Ó Hein said.
When Hein discovered the MSL program, primarily run in smaller western towns of Loudoun County, she knew she wanted to bring it to Sterling, she said. MSL has an "accumulation of resources,Ó Hein said, which include the support of other Main Street groups, access to conferences and training, publications and consulting services.
At the community meeting, Hein said she told the residents that the foundation couldnÕt form a working group with MSL by itself. She asked residents to form the group, which could operate under the foundationÕs umbrella temporarily until it could sustain itself.
ÒI think what [the foundation] wanted to do was ignite the leadership and nurture a partnership,Ó Yancosek Gamble said.
TWO COMMITTEES formed at a second meeting July 26, Hein said. Six residents formed the promotions committee and about 10 formed the economic structuring committee. These two committees represent two of the four points in MSLÕs four-point approach, the Main Street strategy for community revitalization. The other two points are design and organization.
Yancosek Gamble said the four-point approach addresses all aspects of a community: how the communityÕs events are promoted to the local media, what is built in the community, the look of the community and the organization of the community.
ÒThe whole point of Main Street is that those four points steer us and guide us,Ó Yancosek Gamble said.
Bryan McEachern, a Sterling Park resident and a donor to the Sterling Foundation, said having this community-run initiative lends itself to bringing together neighbors who may not have met before, which could help reduce crime.
ÒIt gives us a chance to shake up and integrate our community,Ó said McEachern.
A community policing team representative, Deputy Easton McDonald, showed his support at the first community meeting.
McDonald said he thinks law enforcement, with its goal of improving Òvisibility,Ó has a part in every community initiative. For instance, if the residents decide they want to build more stores, he would remind them the stores should have clear, not tinted, windows so that police could see inside.
McDonald said crime in the area is primarily limited to some gang activity and speeding complaints. Part of his job, he said, is to educate Sterling Park residents on how to spot gangs.
ÒSome people think a group of kids hanging around are gangs,Ó McDonald said.
McDonald must be educating the local residents well. A recent call from a suspicious citizen resulted in three gang-related arrests. McDonald said the police probably wouldnÕt have found the gang members, who were in a concealed area, on their daily patrol.
At the first meeting, Hein said she encouraged residents to participate in the Citizens Policing Academy, an 11-week seminar put on by the Loudoun County SheriffÕs Office starting Sept. 7.
ÒThatÕs a really good short-term goal,Ó Hein said. ÒThatÕs something we can do immediately and maybe form a community watch."
MCEACHERN SAID community members voiced a need for a Òunique and vibrant town centerÓ to attract tourists and residents and from the surrounding area. A few ideas, such as building a theater and restaurants, were thrown around.
To add to the landscaping of Sterling Boulevard, residents discussed creating bike trails that connect to the Washington and Old Dominion trail, erecting street lights and making the throughway more pedestrian-friendly, McEachern said.
The Sterling Foundation received a $70,000 grant to professionally landscape Sterling Boulevard last year, which has been matched with $28,000 through donations by local businesses and residents of the community. The foundation is now seeking a second federal grant for $120,000 to maintain the median.
However, the grants and matching donations are specifically for Sterling Boulevard, Hein said. The Main Street initiative requires additional contributions.
ÒThe trick is getting the private sponsors to help us out,Ó McEachern said.
MSL is part of the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for the Historic Preservation, which has Main Street revitalization organizations across the country. MSL, a regional Main Street-coordinating program, oversees grassroots-based Main Street groups in seven Loudoun County towns and unincorporated areas.
However, MSL is only a resource, and will not take over the Sterling Park initiative, said McEachern. The MSL philosophy is ÒYou guys run the show. You sink or swim,Ó he said.
ÒWeÕll swim,Ó McEachern said confidently.