The Clarke County Board of Supervisors found themselves in a moment of spontaneous debate today over the role of County government in promoting commercial growth. As the Planning Commission continues its independent review of commercial options in the Double Tollgate area the Supervisors took a small step toward mitigating issues at Waterloo that may be slowing businesses from locating there.
Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood), the Supervisors’s Planning Commission liaison, sparked today’s discussion with his summary report of the Planning Commission’s Double Tollgate study group’s progress.
Staelin reported that the Double Toll Gate committee was considering the impacts of modifying the area’s zoning to resemble that of the Berryville business park. Staelin said that such commercial zoning, combined with improved access for truck traffic, could make the area more appealing to businesses. Staelin also said that the Double Tollgate committee was investigating package treatment sewage solutions as well as the possibility of using the White Post Prison’s sewage facility to extend water and sewer to the area.
But Staelin cautioned that there are a number of variables that could make development in the Double Tollgate area less than certain including the high cost of upgrading the prison’s sewage treatment plant should the County opt to use it. Staelin added that significant amounts of unused commercially-zoned real estate in the nearby Lake Frederick community and in Warren County also offer challenges to growth in Double Tollgate.
The glut of surrounding commercial options in the area is making it difficult for the Double Tollgate committee to gain a clear understanding of whether the area can sustain the reasonable square footage real estate values necessary to attract development Staelin said.
“None of the Double Tollgate committee members are real estate experts so we have considered hiring an expert who could help guide us,” Staelin said. “If we did hire someone, the money for the expert would have to come from either the Planning Commission budget or the County’s professional services fund.”
Staelin’s suggestion of a Double Tollgate study prompted Supervisor Bev McKay (White Post) to question why the County was studying Double Tollgate at all given that commercial incentives already in place in the Waterloo area, which according to McKay, have not been effectively promoted.
Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh), who has expressed frustration in the past over the Supervisors’s divided position regarding Double Tollate development, restated his support for a more in-depth review of solutions that could help spur commercial growth in the area.
“If we don’t do something nothing will occur there,” Weiss responded to McKay.
McKay countered that he believed that the County should focus on Waterloo first.
“We already have all of the facilities at Waterloo,” McKay reasoned. “I think that we need to proceed there before we hire another expert to look at Double Tollgate.”
“We can do two things at once,” Weiss shot back.
As the debate intensified, Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert, who along with Weiss had previously been out-voted when a study was suggested prior to the last general election, also appeared frustrated at resistance to funding a closer look at Double Tollgate.
“We talked about doing this seven months ago but the Board voted three to two to go slow,” Hobert said. “Now the Planning Commission is coming back to us with the same thing.”
However, Supervisor Staelin responded that the opinion emerging from the Double Toll Gate study group was a slightly different message this time.
“Without a study the general feeling is that it may not be cost effective to do highway commercial development at Double Tollate,” Staelin said. “The issue is whether we want other types of businesses there and how the development might fit with our comprehensive plan.”
Hobert then endorsed the Planning Commission’s progress in reviewing options at Double Tollgate.
“We’re moving in the right direction and we need to continue until we find out that things won’t work there” Hobert said.
Supervisor Weiss also endorsed continuing to look at different options for Double Tollgate. Weiss went so far as to raise the idea investigating transferable development right (TDR) program for the area that could allow the County to increase population density in the area. Under a TDR program, developers often gain higher development density rights by purchasing the development rights from farmland – effectively reducing development in other areas of the TDR jurisdiction.
“We even talked about the idea of having a small village there,” Weiss said.
Supervisor Byrd said that what the County should avoid is more cookie-cutter commercial development similar to what is already offered nearby in Warren and Frederick counties.
“What we need there is something “different’ there because we will never be able to compete with these other things nearby,” Byrd said.
Byrd described a natural food market that she had seen while traveling in Vancouver, Canada and said that she believed that promotion of similar unique commercial growth would be well suited to Double Toll Gate.
However, McKay remained insistent that the County should focus on the Waterloo area first and do more to reduce commercial sewer hookup rates to promote business growth in the area.
“Waterloo is the most possible spot that we have,’ McKay said. “I wouldn’t oppose subsidizing the hookup fees through the Industrial Development Authority if that would make a difference.”
Ending on a note of consensus the Supervisors agreed to ask the Industrial Development Authority to investigate decreasing sewer hookup fees through County-subsidized means.