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New Market adopts tourism zone ordinance

NEW MARKET — Town Council members adopted an ordinance Tuesday evening that establishes a tourism zone offering tax benefits, business license reductions and reduced sewer/tap hookup fees for a wide range of businesses throughout the town.

Alex Berryman, New Market’s zoning administrator and town planner, presented the ordinance as his last project for the town before he leaves at the end of the month. Berryman drew on similar projects in Front Royal and Strasburg when designing New Market’s ordinance.

In addition to bolstering New Market’s economy, Berryman said adopting the tourism zone ordinance could help employment numbers, too.

“Of adults [aged] 16 plus that reside in New Market, sample estimates from the Census Bureau show there are 1,800,” Berryman said. “About 1,000 of those folks work, but only about 20 percent of those work within 15 minutes of their home.”

Berryman said the town’s workforce is about 200 people, factoring in those who come into New Market from surrounding areas for work.

The number of people commuting for work is hard to pin down, Berryman said. People commuting in and out of the county, as well as the town, are contributing factors to the overall unemployment discussion the county is having.

Manufacturing, human services and tourism are New Market’s largest industries, Berryman said. With the addition of a tourism zone, the tourism industry has a reason to expand while posing few threats to the town’s bottom line.

Tourism, according to Berryman’s figures, refers to businesses providing food, lodging and “experiences” — walking tours, the Shenandoah Caverns, etc.

“Businesses see they can come to New Market and succeed,” Berryman said. “But the quantity of those (businesses) and the frequency is perhaps less than we’d like to see.”

“Economic development, as a whole, is either strengthening existing sectors or adding new sectors to the economy,” he continued. “We want the market to see that New Market is a place where you can enter and thrive.”

To help businesses thrive, Berryman wrote an ordinance designed to attract businesses to the area. The tourism zone is intended to lure them with a variety of incentives in return for a modest investment.

Unlike the arts and culture district in Strasburg, or the tourism zones in Front Royal, the entire town of New Market will be designated as a tourism zone. Any tourism-related business, both new and existing that establishes either a full-time position, two part-time positions or invests at least $5,000 into its property is eligible to receive benefits for up to five years.

Benefits for businesses include paying the minimum business license tax — about $10 a year; receiving a 50 percent reduction in town real estate tax; and a reduced fee on connecting their business to the water/sewer line. Businesses that create new jobs will only be eligible for benefits as long as those jobs remain in place.

Jason Ham, the town attorney, made some small changes to the ordinance draft.

Under the draft, new franchises — McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s — were not eligible for benefits and downtown businesses were exempt from off-street parking. In order to avoid potentially costly legal battles, the language was changed to allow all franchises to be eligible for the benefits.

Off-street parking, according to Berryman, was more of a gesture than a necessity, and Ham said the businesses would be in a difficult position when the exemptions ended at the end of the five years.

The third change imposed an up-front cost on businesses to pay for their water/sewer connection. Businesses must pay the connection fee within 18 months of receiving the benefit rather than keeping the benefit in their back pocket for the duration of the benefits.

Council members adopted the ordinance with a 5-0 vote. Scott Wymer did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

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