As Clarke County’s planning staff reviews the potential for extending central water and sewer to commercially zoned properties near Double Tollgate, at least one county planning commissioner is expressing hesitation over spending taxpayer money to attract what he sees as low value businesses there.
“We’re talking about using $700K of federal money and a couple of hundred thousand of money from local taxpayers in order to support future development there” Clarke County Planning Commissioner Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh). “What I’d like to understand is just what the return on investment for the taxpayer is here. If it’s something like 50 years then I think that it’s a bad investment.”
A general estimate of the cost to provide water and sewer to Double Tollgate is $1.2M with approximately $500K coming from local funds.
Thuss’s comments were prompted in response to a review of Double Tollgate’s development infrastructure currently being performed by Clarke County’s planning department. The review and increased interest in Double Tollgate has been spurred, in part, by federal government job stimulus matching funds that could be available to extend water and sewer to the area. The federal funding for infrastructure projects is currently available to communities like Clarke County through a competitive grant process that evaluates the number of new jobs that will be created by businesses that subsequently locate to newly created economic centers.
“The goal of the federal money that would finance the project is employment” Clarke County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston told the planning commissioners on Friday. “The amount of money that we could receive is based on the amount of jobs that the property developers believe the development plan will create.”
Double Tollgate is an unincorporated community in Clarke County, Virginia and is located at the intersection Front Royal Pike (US Route 522) and Lord Fairfax Highway (US ROute 340). Clarke County’s planning staff is currently reviewing the option of extending water and sewer conveyance lines from the Virginia Department of Correction Detention Center located near White Post, Virginia.
County planning staff told the planning commissioners that Detention Center officials are open to considering allowing use of the facility’s 33,000 gallon sewage treatment plant. Due to reductions in the number of inmates housed at the White Post Detention Center, the treatment plant there currently processes only 11,000 gallons of sewage per day.
“Sewer and water service is a necessary cost of developing this area” Johnston said. “The planning process that we are now involved in will identify the costs of doing this.”
Thuss told Johnston and the other planning commissioners that he wasn’t against increased development in the Double Tollgate area but he does have concerns about the economic wisdom of spending taxpayer money to attract, what Thuss says, is marginal commercial activity.
“What I see coming from this are businesses that don’t bring in much revenue and employ only low wage employees. I just can’t see spending our money to support this kind of development” Thuss said. “If you were to tell me that we are going to bring in high-tech businesses and modern office buildings that would be one thing. But we have so many restrictions in this county that prevent high-tech businesses that I believe the only thing that you will get there is low-value commercial use.”
“The conveyance line would be sized to serve the entire 70 acres of commercial property there” Johnston said. “The Board of Supervisors is not interested in creating a free ride for any of the property owners there.”
“My point is that by accepting the federal grant money we will be making a conscious choice as a county to develop that area” Thuss said. “I would like to make sure that the value generated from the development is more than the cost of developing it.”
Johnston said that the results of the Double Tollgate planning review will be delivered to the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on March 15 and the Supervisors will then make a decision on whether or not to proceed with a grant request.
In June, 2010 Clarke County Supervisors approved land use zoning changes for the Double Tollgate area to accommodate a 20 megawatt solar power facility being considered by Cornerstone Power Development of Chicago, Illinois. Cornerstone has floated plans to place its facility on Monty Gibson’s 145-acre farm just north of Route 340 and east of Route 522 near the existing Double Tollgate power substation. To date, Cornerstone has yet to offer formal plans for actual construction of the facility.
The deadline for Clarke County’s federal grant application is March 15th.