The Clarke County Supervisors heard from several Planning Commission members today over a recent land use study intended to identify business development solutions for Clarke County’s Double Tollgate area. Although several Supervisors expressed satisfaction with the study results, one Supervisor and one Planning Commissioner expressed frustration over the study’s recommendation to defer the area’s long-term development potential as part of a larger effort to revamp Clarke County’s comprehensive plan next year. The Supervisors’s acceptance of the plan as it has been submitted means that Double Tollgate’s future won’t be addressed until late 2013 at the earliest.
“I think that it’s pretty obvious that there won’t be any short-term development at Double Tollgate given the information that we’ve been presented with,” Supervisor Bev McKay (White Post) said in response to Planning Commission recommendation. McKay and the other Supervisors were told that development recommendations at Double Toll would best addressed best as part of a larger effort to overhaul the County’s comprehensive plan beginning later this fall.
“I’m not saying that we want to preclude development there either,” McKay said. “I’m not opposed to development at Double Tollgate, I just want it to be a positive cash flow for the County.”
The report states that there is no cost-effective source of public water at Double Tollgate and individual wells would be required to support any commercial development. The report also warns that long term demand for commercial development in the area will be difficult to predict making any return on investment of public funds spent on water and sewer infrastructure equally unpredictable.
Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) praised the three Planning Commissioners present at Monday’s meeting – Anne Caldwell (Millwood), Robina Bouffault (White Post) and Richard Thuss (Buckmarsh) – for their efforts in developing the report.
“I think that you did come up with a solution,” Byrd said. “You told us that we can’t afford it right now.”
But although the 50+ page report is filed with maps, charts and analysis, both Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) and Commissioner Thuss expressed frustration over the document’s lack of actionable recommendations. Thuss, who voted against forwarding the plan to the Supervisors, said that he felt that the Planning Commission had failed to come up with a Double Tollgate solution as the Supervisors had requested.
“There was an answer to Double Tollgate,” Thuss said. “It might have been an expensive answer and not acceptable to the community. But there was an answer.”
Thuss said that a combination of onsite private packaged sewage treatment plants complemented by unused wastewater discharge capacity in Boyce could be used to solve the lack of water/sewer infrastructure needed to attract new businesses.
“Frederick County has many pump and haul systems,” Thuss said. “The community may not like that answer but it is an answer and we owed you [the Supervisor] an answer rather than push the problem into the comprehensive plan review.”
Supervisor David Weiss echoed Thuss’s sentiments.
“We never seem to get anything other than opinions when it comes to Double Tollgate,” Weiss said. “No one has brought us numbers so that we can make a decision.”
But Planning Commissioner Robina Bouffault challenged Weiss’s contention that the Double Tollgate report lacked hard data.
“I disagree, the report has a lot of data,” Bouffault said. “The problem is that Double Tollgate is going to require a substantial investment upfront – best case $500K but maybe as much as $1.5M – in infrastructure costs. That would mean that we would have to raise taxes with no immediate hope for recovering the money in the next five years. The business demand to cover these kinds of costs just isn’t there because businesses are also looking at nearby areas where the public water and sewer is already in place.”
“Why come here when a business can already get public water and sewer three miles down the road in Frederick County?” Bouffault asked.
“You will never get development in that area if you leave it like it is,” Thuss responded. “If you don’t put in an upfront investment you’ll never get development.”
Supervisor David Weiss did little to conceal his frustration that the Double Tollgate fell short of his expectations.
“Richard [Thuss] is right. We need to do something at Double Tollgate or take it off our agenda,” Weiss said. “This committee didn’t do the task that the Board of Supervisors asked it to do.”
However, Planning Commission vice chairman Anne Caldwell offered a different perspective.
“We believed that it was best to readdress Double Tollgate as an implementation component of the comprehensive plan when it comes up,” Caldwell said. “The committee felt that the County might be better served combining the two issues into a single project then engage a consultant to provide specific advice.”
Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) noted that other areas near Double Tollgate – for instance Warren County where commercial zoning currently permits hotels and restaurants and where public water and sewer already exist – are not seeing growth either.
“I just don’t see a lot going on in that general area,” Staelin said. “My personal opinion is that we have viewed that intersection as a place for gas stations and restaurants that require lots of water and sewage capacity. Maybe we should set up an area for that kind of business growth along Route 522.”
“That’s what we talked about looking at and now the Planning Commission has come back without a solution,” responded Supervisor Weiss. “How do we get off the dime on this? If we don’t want to spend the money to do that then let’s just put our hands up in the air and say ‘This is what we’ve got.’ We can’t keep promoting business growth in our literature by saying that we have something to sell when we don’t. If we don’t have a plan for growth now when the economy does turn around we’ll be five years behind.”
“The Planning Commission should be given a pat on the back,” replied Supervisor Byrd. “They went as far as they could go.”
Clarke County Planning Director Brandon Stidham told the Supervisors that he plans to have a revised Clarke County Comprehensive Plan ready for public review by the spring of 2013.