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Warren County sees long road to draw more industry

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL - The economy and commercial demand likely would determine if and when Warren County expands its industrial base, officials say.

But as the county updates its Comprehensive Plan, attracting more industry and increasing that sector's share of the tax revenue base remain as major goals.

The Planning Commission, as it hashes out details of the county's Comprehensive Plan, has recommended the county increase the amount of land available for industrial development by approximately 800 acres in the U.S. 340-522 corridor north of Front Royal. The county has nearly filled the current 1,400 acres of land zoned for industrial use, much of which lies in its industrial parks along the corridor, according to Planning Director Taryn Logan. The director noted that the commission has for years talked about the need to expand the county's supply of industrial land.

"There's not much available industrial land left in the county limits," Logan said Friday.

A draft of the future land use map for the U.S. 340-522 corridor shows approximately 800 acres of land zoned for agricultural use along the west side of the highway as a proposed area for industry. The area currently does not have water and sewer facilities, Logan said. The director said Front Royal officials will receive a draft of the plan and the map. The town provides water and sewer service for much of the corridor.

"This just says in the future we would like it to be this zoning," Logan said.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley said even if the Comprehensive Plan sets out the 800 acres for industrial use, the process to attract developers could take years.

Rezoning the 800 acres of agricultural land could appear to conflict with other goals in the draft plan, such as to preserve and improve the environmental quality of the county through measures which protect natural resources and sensitive air, lands and waters. The same chapter as drafted states as a goal to preserve the county's natural beauty while making natural features accessible to residents. A chapter on growth management and land use also sets as a goal to direct future development into an efficient and serviceable form that will preserve the county's predominantly rural character.

However another goal seeks to locate industrial and commercial development in defined areas. The county has steered such growth to the 340-522 corridor where the infrastructure to support such development exists.

Industrial expansion would depend on whether land owners ask the county to rezone their properties. The county can't rezone the land on its own, Logan explained.

Even with an industrial area expansion, land zoned for agriculture use still spans more than half the county, according to Logan.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley noted that not all the land in the proposed industrial area can be developed as some lies within a flood plain. Some of the large parcels in the area still serve as agricultural use, according to Stanley. Logan noted that not all the agriculturally zoned property in the site is used for farming, as some parcels are small.

But the county needs more industrial development in order to meet a new proposed goal which addresses the locality's tax base and land assessment. A goal in the draft seeks to increase the industrial land assessment to a "healthy" 35 percent. Industrial and commercial development currently provides 14.64 percent of the land values, according to Stanley. Residential provides approximately 62 percent, he said. Officials estimate that when Dominion brings its power plant online in 2015 the industrial tax base should increase to about 30 percent, over the current target goal of 20-25 percent. The plant should add an estimated $900 million to the county's total industrial land assessment.

At the same time Stanley noted the county could see an increase in residential development which can shift the assessment ratio.

The commission plans to hold a work session with the Warren County Board of Supervisors soon to share information and updates made to the document thus far. The meeting would give supervisors a first look at the draft of the plan. The Comprehensive Plan still faces several steps. Officials may make many more revisions before the county holds public hearings on the document at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors levels. Logan estimated the hearings would begin no earlier than January.

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