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Orange building Route 3 vision

Orange County supervisors are asking residents and business owners to “dare to dream” a prosperous future for the county’s eastern State Route 3 corridor. 

Supervisors Jim White and Lee Frame held a pair of meetings last week to begin the process of enlisting input and support from stakeholders in the area for a strategic vision for the corridor. Attending the first meeting were residents and representatives of the three major east Orange County homeowners associations—Lake of the Woods, Wilderness Shores, and Somerset Farms. The second meeting Thursday included area business owners.

Urging his listeners to help “plan, rather than react,” White several times quoted a favorite saying of management guru Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“We hope to reach a vision, and a plan,” White said, ‘that the community can embrace and support.”

He asked attendees to envision livable communities within Orange County “with unique characteristics bringing together culture, history, natural beauty, health and vitality, featuring strong schools, affordable housing, and businesses that thrive and grow, not merely survive.”

“The underlying purpose of economic development,” White said, ‘is to bring lasting prosperity to the community’s residents.”

He noted that 75 percent of the county’s workforce commutes to another locality to work, and a large number are in jobs with gross pay of less than $500 a week.

Additionally, county residents spend some $87 million each year in purchases outside the county, for a sales tax revenue “leakage” of $4.3 million to the county. Some 46 percent of Orange County public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches, with the number as high as 60 percent in some county schools.

Residential real-estate taxes fund only about 25 percent of the cost to operate county government. Less than 1 percent of the land in the county is zoned for industrial or commercial use, while 63 percent is in reduced-rate land-use taxation or conservation easements.

Orange County’s positives include a great location and a “great quality of life, which we are determined not to change,” White said. But he said building the local economy must become a priority.

“Time is clearly not on the county’s side, and the trends are not favorable,” he said.

He pointed to a community survey in 2004, a year when the county issued 550 building permits for new homes—in which two-thirds of those responding felt that growth in the county was “about right” or “too slow.” In the first five months of this year, by contrast, the county issued only 27 such permits, he said.

Matt Sutton of the Somerset Farms Homeowners Association asked how much authority county supervisors have to direct development along Route 3.

“We have it,” Supervisor Frame answered, “but we need a plan.”

Jim Walsh, president of the Lake of the Woods Association, noted that this was the first time in recent memory that the three homeowners associations had gotten together in the same room.

Walt Deering of Somerset Farms said it was the first time county officials had asked to hear from residents of that community. “It’s about time,” he said, “and we are happy to participate.”

Somerset Farms resident Bob Jones said the county needed more industry and fewer strip malls.

The second meeting, co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, brought more comments about economic development.

Chamber member Ralph Short said county residents should have a positive attitude. Noting that Richmond, Harrisonburg, and the District of Columbia are all within a 75-mile radius of Orange, he added, “We are not in the middle of nowhere. We are in the middle of everywhere!”

A&K Development’s Mansour Azimipour praised White for organizing the meeting. “It is obvious that we need to do something for Orange County,” Azimipour said. “I just hope this is not just a wish list.”

The next step in the process, White said, is to bring together the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and the Economic Development Authority to focus, in a structured way, on the process and what needs to be done. That step, he said, has already been scheduled.

Dan McFarland: