Toms Brook planning for future growth

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Toms Brook’s leaders want to make sure any growth spurt for the town goes as planned.

Town Council continues to work with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission and planning consultants to craft a strategy for growth around the small town.

It wouldn’t take much for a town of 258 people to grow fast. The opening of the Toms Brook School apartments last winter added nearly 36 people to the town, increasing its population by more than 10 percent.

The Toms Brook Growth and Annexation Plan under review by local leaders shows potential areas the town could add in the future. The plan identifies large areas to the north, south and east of town. The plan also suggests the town could extend its boundaries to take in land up to Interstate 81.

But the town’s vision of the future comes only a short time after the community set up plans for dealing with development and other issues already facing Toms Brook, Mayor Phil Fauber said Wednesday.

“We’re not in the works for doing all that right now,” Fauber said. “We’re still working with what we’ve got.”

The town also must make sure its comprehensive plan jibes with the county’s, Fauber noted.

Toms Brook hasn’t expanded its borders since incorporation in 1922, Fauber said. The town established a planning commission just six years ago. Fauber has compared the town in the past to “the wild west” because of its lack of zoning regulations that allowed for unrestricted building.

Development dropped off with the economic slump that hit the valley not long after the town set up the commission. Should the housing market and construction make a comeback, Fauber said the town would want to plan for any future homebuilding that may occur.

Members of the Toms Brook Town Council and its Planning Commission met recently with the county’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission to talk about the community’s future. County officials mentioned the town and county could someday enter into a voluntary settlement agreement that would go beyond a simple boundary line adjustment. Settlement agreements could dictate how, where and when a town could annex land from the county. The jurisdictions also could outline the kind of development they would want to see on the annexed land and how services would be provided to the area.

Growth would not happen overnight, Fauber said.

“We’re not looking at annexing within the next six months,” Fauber said. “But down the road, maybe four or five years from now — I guess probably it could be sooner — it’s nothing that’s imminent.”

The mayor noted that one of the first properties the town may annex lies behind the Toms Brook School apartments. The town-county line splits the property. The town has tentatively zoned the land behind the former school in the county that housed the playground as transitional.

Fauber explained that the town’s zoning regulations would allow the creation of smaller lots and a greater density of housing units than under the county restrictions. If a developer wants to build more homes on the county property, they may seek to annex the land into the town, Fauber said.

Annexation could mean higher taxes for Toms Brook residents if the town adds more land and needs to extend services to more people, Fauber said. Toms Brook does not provide utilities but collects trash and maintains two roads, as well as provides other services, on an annual budget of approximately $60,000.

But as the mayor explained, the town needs to stay in tune with Shenandoah County’s plans for the area around Toms Brook. The county’s comprehensive plan recommends that growth occur around the towns and in areas provided with water and sewer service.

“It’s going to be a big influence on our community and we want to be ready,” Fauber said.

Town residents have shown interest in the planning effort and at one of the first gatherings on the matter council had to move the meeting out of the small office in the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department building to the church across U.S. 11.

At the county meeting last week, Milt Herd, with Herd Planning & Design, presented the draft of the Toms Brook Growth and Annexation Plan. The consultant began work on the plan in June.

“We’re not presuming annexation,” Herd said. “We’re just looking at possibilities. We’re going to refine those.”

Fauber said he expects Herd to present the final draft of the plan to the Town Council in October.

Herd explained that the creation of the plan involves taking input from the meetings held on the matter. Maps can show possible growth areas for the town while artists’ renderings illustrate potential changes to entranceways into Toms Brook and other amenities.

Last fall and this spring, with the help of the regional commission and Shenandoah County, Toms Brook worked to update its comprehensive plan.

Out of that plan came a strategic vision of a future Toms Brook, Tyler Klein, senior planner with the commission, told representatives for the jurisdictions.

“It’s a concept,” Klein said. “It’s not anything that’s kind of set in stone.”

No annexation agreement between the town and county currently exists.

“But the town recognizes that they have quite a small boundary in their current limits and there’s not a lot of opportunity for growth, whether that’s residential or commercial or industrial growth,” Klein said.

While the scope of the planning effort doesn’t include work on a voluntary settlement agreement that would outline where the town could grow and the responsibilities of Toms Brook and the county, Herd suggested the discussions may lead in that direction.

“The key is to look at the possibilities, look at the town’s needs, see how they match with county policy and then decide how much you want to formalize that into any kinds of agreements,” Herd said.

County and town policies appear in sync for the most part, Herd noted. A county policy calls for development and growth to occur around the six towns. Coordination between the towns and the county help that effort.

The regional commission searched for and found funding through the Virginia Housing Development Authority with a mixed-use, mixed-income planning grant. The award allowed the regional commission to hire the consultant to conduct the growth and annexation study. A similar study for New Market helped the county’s southernmost town plan its future growth.

During the meeting, supervisors and county staff voiced a willingness to continue helping the town through the planning process.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com