Orange County receives economic tips from Route 3 corridor panel
Orange County should consider lowering its proffers and tap fees and opening up more land for development, experts studying economic development along the State Route 3 corridor have recommended.
The seven-member panel of outside specialists also suggested the county try to team up with an established health care provider to attract more medical offices and facilities.
Those recommendations were among several that resulted from the two-day Route 3 planning charette earlier this week. At a Tuesday presentation to members of the Route 3 Strategic Visioning Steering Committee and area stakeholders, the charette panel outlined its perceptions of county challenges and strengths, as well as ideas on how best to get started.
Faith McClintic of Richmond-based Spectrum Growth Solutions who organized and oversaw the charette, said the panel was offering recommendations on “quick fixes—things you can start to address right out of the gate,” in addition to factors needing consideration before making any long-term commitments.
Panel members with expertise in development, finance and infrastructure came together Sunday evening at a stakeholders’ kickoff reception, where they were charged by county Supervisor Jim White of the steering committee to produce recommendations on:
The right balance and types of businesses for the Route 3 corridor.
What the market can actually support versus the county’s current vision.
The best and most appropriate land uses for the area that would be both feasible and sustainable into the future.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan targets the Route 3 corridor for economic development.
Charette Chairman Erich Strohhacker of Bowman Consulting said the group recommended “putting a brand on the area.” The panel described their suggested starting point as the “Germanna Wilderness Overlay District,” and broke down its recommendations into four phases, ranging from near term (the next two years) to long term (10 years and beyond.)
The panel identified utilities as being among the foremost challenges. Water and sewer presented short-term issues, Strohhacker explained, while capacity and policy were longer-term problems.
Tap fees and proffers that are too high to be competitive with surrounding areas are barriers to growth, the panel found. Proffers are donations provided by developers seeking a rezoning that are intended to offset the costs of schools, police and fire protection, and other government services the development will require.
Strohhacker said another problem is the overuse of special-use permits for new projects.
“That’s telling you that something is wrong, something that needs to be fixed, needs to be more efficient,” he said.
The panel also cited land preservation as another another challenge to growth. Strohhacker noted that 63 percent of the county’s land is in conservation.
“That is an issue,” he said. “That’s tough.”
Still, the chairman said, the primary message from the charette was that “you have a real opportunity if you are willing to make some changes.”
Other recommendations include:
Partner with established health care systems such as the University of Virginia/Culpeper Regional Hospital or Mary Washington Hospital to establish an emergency medical facility or ambulatory surgery center in this area, forming a base to attract other health care growth around it.
Set guidelines for how the area is going to be, aiming for results, not regulations.
Address water and sewer needs early, so potential commercial developers know that there is a plan for handling those needs.
Aim for quality residential development to spur commercial and office growth.
Relocate the State Route 20 intersection farther west.
BUILDING ON STRENGTHS
Major strengths that would help the county effort include the availability of land, a limited number of landowners in the targeted area, established neighborhoods, regional access to employment and available capacity in roads, power and gas, the panel said.
Other strengths lay in the area’s historic offerings, the Rapidan River bordering the area’s northern edge and the presence of Germanna Community College.
The panel’s recommended priorities to move forward included policy changes, new efforts in planning and design, as well as marketing, development strategies, and finally, implementation.
The charette’s first recommended phase, characterized by panel member Kevin Humphrey of The Patina Group as “picking the low-hanging fruit,” was to concentrate on developing the western and eastern ends of the corridor, using current utility availability.
The western area, near the new Walmart, was tentatively identified as “Germanna Village” while the eastern area near the Spotsylvania County border was labeled “Wilderness Village.”
Now that the charette has been completed, Spectrum will compile the panel’s findings into a formal report, which McClintic hopes to have ready in approximately one month. Once it is presented to county officials, a session will be scheduled to inform residents of the recommendations and seek input on the findings.
The Steering Committee and supervisors will then aim to produce a small area plan for the overlay district, to be incorporated into the county’s Comprehensive Plan.