Greene supervisors have tough row to hoe

By Susan Gibbs

The Greene County Board of Supervisors isn’t just looking at decreasing property assessments that might force them to raise the levy.

Supervisors also have to face the fact that if tap fees for water/sewer hookups don’t start coming in on a regular basis, within two years they will be dipping into the county’s general fund to make the semi-annual payments on its water debt, which is currently about $39 million, including principal and interest.

But those things are in the future. For the moment they are just looking at the possibilities that the state will ask the county to take over maintenance of more of the county’s secondary roads, and to shoulder more of a burden for education.

The Board is also now looking at the facts that the county’s rescue squad needs a new building, and that it, along with all three volunteer fire departments, needs equipment.  Ruckersville Elementary School needs an addition, the William Monroe High School cafeteria must be enlarged, and the county will have to pay its share of the Central Virginia Regional Jail expansion.

Further, there is an unpaid balance for recent courthouse renovations, Region Ten Community Services has said it needs another half a million dollars, and supervisors are eyeballing another $40 million debt for a proposed water reservoir.

It might be time for supervisors to rethink their priorities.

Even before Greene’s comprehensive plan was updated two years ago county supervisors were focusing on building a tourism industry. When it was updated, and supervisors approved it in June 2010, it contained the words, “the county has not yet developed a major tourist industry.”

While the current plan touts Greene’s “scenery, wildlife, farmland, pastures, opportunities for biking and birding, and historical features” as draws to a potential tourism industry, it does not say who will be paying for the country roads bikers may be peddling down to view the scenery and watch the birds.

Moreover, Greene’s current comprehensive plan states that farming should be considered a component of both tourism and economic development – even though it calls for tax benefits for those who farm.

It would seem that supervisors are listening more to environmentalists focused on conserving the ecosystem than they are to the businessmen who can help them pay their bills.

For example: In December the Greene County Planning Commission unanimously denied the Fried Companies’ request to rezone its planned Creekside development off US 29 and Preddy Creek Road.

The original plan called for 800 single-family homes. Based on market analyses that say homebuyers want smaller homes, with smaller price tags and that require less upkeep, the developer requested a rezoning that would allow for 600 single-family homes, and 580 townhomes, bringing the total potential number of residences to 1,180.

That’s 380 more residences that the developer originally planned, and if the request were to be approved, it would stand to bring in another $7.6 million in sewer/water tap fees – based on current county policy, which calls for $20,000 per housing start.

That’s in addition to the income the additional units would bring to the county in the form of property taxes.

Fried Companies’ request does not exceed the boundaries of the county’s comprehensive plan: it adheres to the plan’s call for clustered developments, as well as to its call for parks, via a proffered three-acre public use area on the property.

Further, the developer has offered the county a connector road through the property, thus alleviating additional traffic caused by the development and easing concerns of already-existing commuters.

Still, county commissioners unanimously denied the request, citing fears of traffic congestion, even though the developer brought in an independent expert to show that traffic would not be adversely affected.

They unanimously denied the request, with one commissioner citing fear of negative impact on schools, even though the developer has said that it will be at least three years before the first townhouse is build, and 20 years before the entire development is completed.

They unanimously denied Fried Companies’  request in the face of three local businessmen who spoke in favor of the rezoning, citing the county’s need for commercial growth that more rooftops will encourage, and their need for the new customers who will be living under those rooftops.

Some time ago Greene County Director of Economic Development Tony Williams has said that county residents “are always asking (for such enterprises as) Olive Garden, Starbucks, Marshall’s or T.J. Maxx.”

And County Administrator Barry Clark has noted that while some commercial enterprises have inquired, none have made commitments – because the county does not have enough rooftops to support them

So Greene’s planning commissioners unanimously denied Fried Companies’ request, not just in the face of the possible $7.6 million the additional units stand to place in county coffers, but in the face of the $200,000 tap fee that each new commercial establishment – such as an Olive Garden or a Starbucks —  might bring to the county.

Hopefully, Greene’s supervisors will not make the same mistake.

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