Unknown costs in annexation raise concerns

MOUNT JACKSON – The town might need to spend its own money to entice industry to build on a proposed mega site, warns a former planning official.

Mount Jackson leaders held a public hearing this week on a proposal to annex 576 acres of agricultural land to the town through a boundary adjustment. Robert and Eleanor Whitehurst touted their request as a possible way to create a mega site for industrial development that could lead to new jobs and more revenue for the town and Shenandoah County.

But how much Mount Jackson might need to spend up front to attract an industrial user, or to provide the local utility services to the site, remains unknown. Town Manager Kevin Fauber said Wednesday that Mount Jackson officials would need to investigate the costs associated with development. Fauber identified the cost to provide water and sewer service to the property as the first major cost to consider.

“Of course we would look for the applicant or the prospective business, whomever, to be the ones that would extend the mains into the site,” Fauber said. “If it gets to that point, we would be looking for a proffer similar to what [the Virginia Department of Transportation] is requesting as far as road improvements.”

The process to annex and develop the property likely would involve much study.

“I think that’s part of the evaluation and studies moving forward, just seeing what those costs would be to the localities,” Fauber added. “I guess moving forward into the future, if it was brought into town and the area was developed, then you would have to think about the other services that the town provides as far as public safety, police protection and so forth.

“I think a lot of those questions are yet to be answered and I think that goes along with the thought process of checking with other localities that have gone down a similar path, just see what the costs are – what lessons they’ve learned and also the bad things,” Fauber said.

Homeowner Jason Payne also has asked the town to consider including his property, surrounded on three sides by the Whitehurst land, in the annexation should the request pass. Payne’s mother, Lorene Payne, of Warrenton, spoke at the public hearing held Monday by the Planning Commission and Town Council. Lorene Payne said she has more than 30 years experience working in zoning administration. She recalled what Manassas did to entice a large employer to build in the city.

“I can tell you that when a business of that size comes to a jurisdiction, we begged and we got … Dominion Semiconductor,” Lorene Payne said. “That was our big box we were looking for. It cost us over $1 million – the city of Manassas paid over $1 million in utilities to get that company to come in.”

Manassas also had to waive the business-license taxes the company would normally need to pay for more than 15 years.

Lorene Payne recalled that when IBM set up a facility in Manassas, the company brought in its employees rather than hire new people. Instead of living in Manassas, employees moved into Fauquier County, she said.

“I have seen how it does develop and the traffic did increase,” Lorene Payne said.

The former planner reiterated the importance of the developer conducting a traffic impact study on the property to determine how an industrial user might affect the surround roads. Traffic generated by an industrial user would affect the roads beyond the site, she warned. Manassas had to build more bypasses to accommodate traffic generated by its large-scale industries, Payne recalled.

Mount Jackson would likely need to build a bypass around town to accommodate traffic from the mega site, Lorene Payne warned. She urged the commission and council to slow down the approval process and update the Comprehensive Plan to reflect the possible development of the mega site.

Planning Commission members had expressed confusion over what the town’s light industrial zoning district would allow. Lorene Payne noted that the ordinance allows storage in the district but that term can mean many types of user. Payne recalled that Manassas had to rewrite its ordinances to more specifically define what types of users could go into zoning districts to protect residents.

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