By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A potential boon for Strasburg lies within the town's reach.
This time next year a moratorium on annexation of Shenandoah County land by the town ends. Strasburg can then start the process to add some or all an industrial park covering more than 310 acres north of Strasburg adjacent to Interstate 81, U.S. 11 and Va. 55.
The county has developed but approximately 80 acres of the North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park, which includes Mercury Paper, Americold and other employers.
But town and county officials don't plan to wait until the last minute to look at annexation. Strasburg Town Council members recently discussed the topic at a work session Monday and already requested staff begin to study annexation. Town Manager Judson Rex said Wednesday council asked staff to prepare a cost-benefit analysis on annexing the land.
"There's benefits to annexing," Rex said. "We increase our real estate tax base and other taxes we collect. The new owners would pay the town portion of the real estate tax and there's other taxes, too.
"But there's also costs associated with that so we would have to provide, for example, police patrols to the new area that we annex," Rex added. "We'd be responsible for maintaining the streets. ... You can really, at a basic level, look at an annexation and, at least financially, understand the cost and the benefit of doing such an annexation."
Industrial property tends to provide a greater benefit, or at least cost less to a locality, than land containing residential development, according to Rex. Housing requires more coverage by public safety agencies and maintenance, thus costing the locality more in revenue, Rex said.
As the town manager recalled, council members also talked about the potential to annex only parts of the industrial park already developed and look at adding the rest in the future.
County Administrator Douglas C. Walker noted he and Shenandoah County officials had been talking about the issue for the past two years.
"It's good that we started kinda getting working with them to be more active and talking about how that annexation is going to proceed," Walker said.
An agreement reached between the town and county in June 1998 put a 15-year hold on any annexation of land by Strasburg. That moratorium ends in 2013 according to town and county officials.
But annexation would not happen overnight.
Each locality must take several steps in order to bring the land into the town limits and out of the county. The process involves public hearings primarily on an ordinance to annex the land. Officials also would discuss any zoning issues affecting the property.
"The posture in Shenandoah County has been very collaborative in my short experience here," Walker said. "We just recently concluded a very, very positive joint annexation with New Market and see that as a model for moving forward where we work together with them ... to determine their development areas and agree on a plan for how it's gonna develop over time."
Conversations among town and county officials about the pending end to the moratorium remained superficial because the date appeared far enough away, Walker noted.
Shenandoah County has continued to market the industrial park and to develop the area even as the moratorium deadline looms, according to Planning and Zoning Director Brandon Davis. The county sought aid through the governor's opportunity fund and currently is working to extend water and sewer service into the park.
The county also has plans to extend the access road, Borden Mowery Drive, 2,000 feet east to Radio Station Road, according to Davis.
"The county is actively investing in infrastructure in that industrial park because it is a good location," Walker said. "That's where we look to add to our industrial economic base, in fully understanding that, at some point, in June 2013, or as we mutually agree going forward they're to become part of the town."
The county and town share a tax base and that would continue if Strasburg annexes the industrial park. The town would see additional revenue from levying its own taxes on property in the industrial park.
County officials don't view the potential annexation as a loss.
"So we don't see it as being a barrier to our economic development efforts but it does change the way that we approach how we market that piece of property and our conversations with prospects and whatnot because it's not officially in town limits," Walker said.
The county currently markets the property at its tax rates. If made part of Strasburg, the marketing to prospects would need to include information about the town rates, according to Walker.
Davis noted the county patterned the deal it reached with New Market on the agreements devised by Stephens City and Leesburg.
"Hopefully we learned from some of their mistakes and solved those issues so we won't go through some of the same problems as they had," Davis said.
An older agreement between the town and county dates back nearly 30 years which opens up more land to annexation by Strasburg in 2014. Davis explained that the town would use that annexation agreement to bring more land into its borders.
As an older, simpler approach to annexation, Davis explained the agreement, which ends in two years, doesn't currently include comprehensive planning documents he sees as important. The documents would clarify growth and development expectations of the two localities for any land annexed by the town, with input from officials and leaders, developers and residents, Davis noted.
"So there are no surprises," Davis said.
The agreement between the localities allows the town to decline to annex the industrial park should its leaders choose that option, according Davis.
"There are merits to leaving it in the county and there are merits to leaving it in," Davis said. "I would expect there to be a discussion about whether or not they choose to do that at the end of this 15-year period, since it's not fully developed. If it was fully developed I think it would be obvious they should bring it into town. But that's a conversation the town would have."