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HILLSVILLE — Planning for growth in Fancy Gap before public water and sewer arrives will help in making it more of an economic engine for Carroll County, business owners recently told the planning commission.
Community members have asked Carroll County for help to ensure that the potential growth doesn't turn into ugly sprawl in Fancy Gap, a busy tourist gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Charles and Margaret Barnhardt, owners of Treasure Potts, approached the planning commission at the Feb. 17 meeting to ask for support in continuing the planning effort.
Charles Barnhardt showed the planning commission a picture of an unidentified street covered with dozens of unsightly business signs as an example of what people in Fancy Gap want to avoid becoming.
The way to keep undesirable development from happening is by setting up development regulations for the main business areas in the community — Interstate 77's Exit 8, Chances Creek Road and U.S. 52 around the Blue Ridge Parkway.
About 40 community members talked over the idea of business standards for Fancy Gap at a comprehensive plan meeting last summer. Barnhardt remembered the participants agreed that something had to be done to protect the community from becoming overdeveloped.
This isn't something that the planning commission or the board of supervisors wants to press on the people, said Assistant Administrator Ronald Newman. It's something that people in the community want.
"What is going to be asked of the planning commission is basically an endorsement of going forward with working on development regulations, zoning — whatever you want to call it — at Fancy Gap, at the request of the citizens of Fancy Gap," he said.
Meetings with business and community leaders led to the drawing of a conceptual map, showing eight different categories of possible land use in Fancy Gap.
Those range from general commercial use near Interstate 77, conservation around the Blue Ridge Parkway and recreation uses and a "heritage commercial" corridor along U.S. 52, among other things.
Land use would be arranged so businesses like fast food restaurants and hotels could set up near the interstate exit and smaller locally owned business would go on U.S. 52.
"That's basically set up to be 'mom and pop' stores as a corridor to the Blue Ridge Parkway," he said about the heritage commercial area.
Yesterday's Fancy Gap had no guided economic development and poor business planning, which resulted in stark parking lots and buildings being located directly on the highway. In addition, houses were adapted to commercial uses by putting signs out front.
Fancy Gap has attracted redevelopment and new businesses like Dollar General and an enhanced effort to reach out to tourists with the Blue Ridge Host visitors' center, located just north of the parkway.
A study by Carroll County staff revealed that Fancy Gap served as a significant source of business activity and revenue in 2007. It showed that 34 businesses had invested about $10.4 million in the community, employed 77 people and generated about $170,000 in tax revenue.
"Why does Fancy Gap's commercial district need planning now?" Barnhardt asked. "To encourage or promote positive growth, encourage more community participation, protect the quality of life and provide confidence to potential investors."
Goals include protecting private investment at Fancy Gap, encouraging positive development, making Fancy Gap even more of a tourist destination, protecting the Blue Ridge Parkway area from sprawl and protecting the quality of life there.
It needs to happen before the public water and sewer projects finish up in 2012, thereby ending an impediment that had held up more widespread development in Fancy Gap for years.
Carroll County and its citizens are “putting a little over $8 million into water and sewer to Exit 8 and Fancy Gap," Barnhardt said. "Somebody's expecting a return on their money — a commercial plan business district will help that."
Several large tracts of land in Fancy Gap are already on the market, he noted.
"Probably 30 percent of the property in Fancy Gap has for sale signs on it," he noted. "We're not trying to control people selling their property. What we're trying to control is what happens to that property when it's sold."
To create more of a pleasant, coherent feel for Fancy Gap, community representatives suggest implementing zoning and design standards in the areas of building placement and design, signs and landscaping around the business areas.
Specifically, building placement would deal with minimum lot sizes, store sizes, building heights, setbacks and outside lighting.
Building design standards would attempt to align building materials, design and paint schemes, parking lot size and spaces, loading dock and storage visibility.
Signage would deal with heights and sizes, lighting, materials and perhaps style, in places like the heritage commercial area.
Landscaping guidelines could require having an erosion and sediment plan and screening and buffering from the road and surrounding areas.
Setting building heights is important, for example, because tall structures might block the scenic views on U.S. 52.
Signs would be more attractive if they were at more of a "human scale" of around six feet tall instead of 30.
"All of these are areas which need some attention before the buildings are built," Barnhardt said. "Once they come, you don't have much say so about it."
Think about the possibilities of positive development and investment, he told the planning commission while showing them pictures of attractive storefronts connected with brick sidewalks and landscaped lots.
An open-air market in front of the visitors' center would enhance that area.
Residential development could target active adults with a cluster of homes — that would add to investment in the community, he said. There could be a retirement center with a scenic view there.
"Residential development helps pay for water and sewer, also," Barnhardt said.
Development of two restaurants, a 90-room motel and a 60-home subdivision would bring an estimated $9 million in investment to the community, create 72 new jobs and contribute $261,810 to Carroll County's tax base, the presentation said.
Barnhardt asked the members of the planning commission to make a recommendation to the board of supervisors to move forward with the planning and development regulations for the Fancy Gap commercial district.
It didn't take long for planing commission member Margaret Leggett to voice her support.
"Well, I personally think its a wonderful idea," she said. "We need to start somewhere."
Noting that members of the community wanted this, Leggett made a motion to tender that recommendation.
Should the planning commission get more specifics first, Beverly Tipton asked.
"I think we'll get the specifics once we give the go ahead to start," Leggett said. "This is not set in stone — the way I understand it, it's just a starting point…"
More specifics will be worked out by going back to the community at planning meetings, in a process similar to the one used in the comprehensive plan last year, Newman said.
Does the general public agree with this idea? Commission Member Shelby Puckett asked.
At first, there were about four people out of 40 who shared concerns at the community meeting last summer, Barnhardt answered. By the end of the night, they agreed that the community needs to do something.
"We're going to have sprawl if we're not careful," he said. "It's time to look into it."
"My concern is we are stewards of the Blue Ridge corridor and it's an important thing," said Margaret Barnhardt. "For future generations, not just for us, I think it's a responsibility we should think about."
Commission member Namon Strickland wondered what would happen if businesses could not meet the requirements of an erosion and sediment plan, like a sediment pond, to fit on their own property.
Current businesses might have to band together to accomplish things like that, Barnhardt agreed. That will probably be an issue with commercial entrances, too.
Newman pointed out that the Virginia Department of Transportation requires 1,320 feet between commercial entrances. That probably means businesses will have to cluster together and share a common entrance from the street.
"There's not too many more places out there to get a commercial entrance, so people are going to have to be working together," he said.
That also stresses the importance of sharing parking lots and having walkways to connect businesses, Newman said. In agreeing on this concept, the business owners out there already have a start on working together.
"If they don't work together, then guess what? They don't develop."
Is it going to be a problem having zoning in one area of the county and not others, Joey Dickson of the commission asked.
"We think that's a positive to zone a particular part of the county and leave the other part of the county basically untouched,” Barnhardt said. "That's the area the citizens have already gotten together, saying, 'We need some attention.'"
Newman indicated that county officials are dealing mainly with the business area of Fancy Gap. "When you look at what's being asked for, there's very few private citizens that would be affected," he said. "It's the business development corridor."
All planning commission members voted yes to send the recommendation to the board of supervisors.
Several members of the commission complimented the community representatives on their ideas.
"It's nice to see people working together for a common cause," said Chairman Larry Chambers.