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Tour helps focus Orange’s Route 3 vision

Orange County officials and property owners took to the road this week to collect some ideas for developing the State Route 3 corridor and came back impressed. 

The Orange County Administrator and Economic Development staffs held a “Visioning Tour” Tuesday, taking those involved in planning the future of the corridor to view successful developments in nearby regions and to talk with those involved in planning and executing those projects.

Taking part in the tour were members of the county Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority, as well as major landowners in the Route 3 corridor and other interested county residents.

The sites visited included West Creek in Goochland County, Innsbruck in Henrico County, City Center at Oyster Point in Newport News and New Town in James City County.

At each stop, local officials talked about the decisions that went into planning and completing those developments, the choices that had worked well and those that did not. They also took questions from the visitors.

One theme that was repeated several times on the day-long tour was that the process of economic development is not a short, simple one.

Joe Hines, of the Timmons Group, developers of the West Creek Business Park near Richmond, noted that in such endeavors, “an overnight success usually takes 10 to 15 years.”

Toney Hall, director of marketing for the Henrico Economic Development Authority, echoed that thought. The Innsbruck development, he said, had been an “overnight sensation that took 25 to 30 years.”

Several speakers said it is important to be selective in the development process.

“You don’t want to sell property to any Tom, Dick or Harry,” Hines counseled. “You want a business that fits your plan.”

Orange officials were also told, however, that opportunities to attract the desired businesses sometimes move swiftly, with zoning a particularly important factor.

“You need to be prepared to go, if you’re going to be in the game,” Hines said. Particularly regarding zoning choices, he explained, “At some point in time, you need to pull the trigger.”

The “tourists” from Orange were universally pleased with the day’s activities.

“This trip afforded us the opportunity to see what others had done, and, more importantly, to enter into discussions with the key players who made it happen,” Supervisor Jim White said.

He was also impressed with the various speakers’ willingness to share their experiences and lessons learned.

Supervisor Lee Frame also felt the day was useful. “I learned a lot,” he said, “and saw some things that I liked.

The speakers, he said, “gave us particularly useful information, and, perhaps, created the need for us to answer a lot more questions.”

White thinks it is important to involve the key landowners in the planning process, and said the tour gave the county leaders, along with the landowners, a chance to “see the same things, hear the same messages and get on the same page.”

State Route 3 landowner Chip King said his participation in the visioning tour “helped change my perspective in a number of areas.”

“You really need to look at the issues from all standpoints,” he said.

Dan McFarland: