On Monday the Clarke County Board of Supervisors were in agreement that it’s time to define the boundaries and zoning that will govern commercial development around Double Tollgate in the southwest corner of the county. But there was little agreement on the scope and process of a proposed $34K study intended to provide recommendations for managing commercial growth in the region.
Development possibilities for the Double Tollgate area, which is now primarily rural farmland, has grabbed the Supervisors’s attention for several reasons. First, both Warren County to the south and Frederick County to the west have implemented high density commercial and light industrial zoning for areas abutting the Double Tollgate area of Clarke. The adjacent Warren and Frederick zoning could define Clarke’s land use policies unless the Supervisors are proactive in establishing their own development vision for the area. Second, the Double Tollgate area is defined by the intersection of two major highways, US 522 and US 340, which have seen significant traffic increases largely due to development in Frederick and Warren County. According to Clarke County planning administrator Chuck Johnston, the area now serves 18,000 vehicle trips per day. Last, but not least, is the disposition of the 200-acre state-owned White Post Detention Center which has fallen into disuse over the last few years. A strong Double Tollgate land use plan, that includes the Detention Center property, could influence how the land is used should the Commonwealth decide to officially dispose of the property.
At Monday’s Board of Supervisor work session planning administrator Johnston presented a draft study area map that included approximately 600 acres. Johnston’s proposed study area, which stretches from just north of the US 522 – US 340 intersection south along US 522 to just north of the Warren County boundary, drew immediate comment from all five Supervisors as well as Johnston himself.
“I’m not a proponent of strip development so this map is really a way of starting the discussion” Johnston said. “I’d prefer to see us create an urban village kind of development there. For example, if we could draw genetic research companies interested in doing research on animals and crops the area could provide a big laboratory for them to work with. The point is that this area has an obvious link in a larger pattern of development. This study will help us determine what we want to do there or whether we would prefer to pull back.”
But Johnston’s 600-acre corridor suggestion, covering roughly 850 feet along either side of US 522 stretching south, was immediately challenged by Supervisor Pete Dunning (White Post).
“This kind of strip development is very un-Clarke County” Dunning said. “Our planning has been strong for a long time and there is a lot of difference between Clarke County and Frederick County. That 5,000 acres west of Double Tollgate is totally uncontrolled. God bless our neighbors but I’m glad that it’s there and not here.”
Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) expressed concerns for ensuring that Double Tollgate area development did not necessarily follow the patterns defined in Warren and Frederick County and also questioned the wisdom of spending money with a consultant to make recommendations for development in the area.
“We need to be different in order to be good” Byrd said in reference to future commercial development in the area. “We shouldn’t pattern ourselves after what is being done in Warren and Frederick. I’m also not sure that we need to spend nearly $40K now for an expert to tell us how to develop our county especially when it could be ten to fifteen years before the economy will recover enough to build there.”
Supervisor Dunning joined Byrd in questioning the value of spending taxpayer money to study the area and suggested that Berryville’s that the county should focus more on building out the existing industrial park in Berryville.
As discussion veered away consideration of the commercial district study and into potential specifics of what might or might not be appropriate for the area, Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) expressed frustration with the lack of focus on what he saw as the matter at hand; defining the boundaries of the study area and then approving or disapproving the land use study.
“You’ve said what you don’t want” Weiss said to Dunning. “Now can you say what you do want?”
Dunning, whose voting district includes Double Tollgate, expressed support for studying the 50-acre area immediately around the US 522/US 340 intersection. However, Supervisors Hobert (Berryville) and Staelin (Millwood) disagreed.
“I’m not sure that we want to preclude an expert from looking at areas outside of that box” Hobert said. “I have strong concerns about strip development too but I don’t think that we want to tie a consultant’s hands.”
Staelin echoed Hobert’s sentiment. “Given the commercial development going on nearby the consultant may tell us that the development drives the shape of the study area” Staelin said.
Staelin pointed out that the economics of extending sewer and water to the area didn’t make sense for only a 50-acre parcel so expanding the study area could provide the Supervisors with additional options.
“We can’t afford to get sewer and water to such a small area” Staelin said. “We need to either leave it as it is with small septic fields or do a larger study to investigate what the cost of economic development really is.”
Clarke County has already expended $40K studying land use for the 50-acres adjacent to the Double Tollgate intersection. The additional $34K would include a $9K contract to study engineering infrastructure costs with the remaining $25K focused on defining reasonable economic boundaries for future commercial zoning in the area.
After a reaching stalemate on the pros and cons of limiting the economic study to a smaller area versus consideration of a larger tract, both sides appeared satisfied, at least for the moment, by a suggestion from county administrator David Ash that the study consultant be charged to define the “minimum area that can be economically developed.”
The final disposition of issuing a request for proposal to study the economic zoning for Double Tollgate will be considered, and likely decided, in two weeks at the Supervisor’s next regular session on May 24.
“We’ve got Dinosaur Land and a 7-11 there” said Supervisor Byrd. “This area is begging for a makeover.”