New Market council looking to adopt tourism zone ordinance

NEW MARKET — Town Council members are excited to move forward with adopting a tourism zone blanketing the town to attract business to the area.

Peter Hughes, a council member, jumped at the idea when it was first mentioned in a brief presentation last month.

“I liked the idea the first time I heard it,” Hughes said Tuesday night. “I think there are so many good things in this town and we need to provide whatever incentives we reasonably can to attract people here.”

Alex Berryman, town planner and zoning administrator, presented his draft of Ordinance 104 to council members during their work session on Tuesday evening. Berryman walked through the four-page draft, explaining the requirements tourism businesses must meet to receive the modest incentives available.

Incentives include a reduction in the annual business license; a 50 percent reduction in town real estate tax; a discount on a business’ water/sewer connection, and off-street parking exemption downtown. All incentives would be available for up to five years provided businesses meet qualifications.

Modest incentives were laid out, Berryman said, not only as a good faith gesture but to ensure the town doesn’t take on a great amount of risk in its attempt to attract new business.

“The biggest risk to the town is the modest difference in revenue collected,” Berryman said. “This is a low risk, high-reward opportunity.”

Berryman conceded a secondary risk of the program is under-performing.

Hughes expressed some concern the incentives weren’t lucrative enough. He asked Berryman whether the town was aiming high enough.

“I’m not sure that the scale of what we have in mind is going to move the needle as much as we’d like to,” Hughes said.

Berryman told council members the ordinance was limited to some degree by the state code, which has a provision to allow for tourism zones. The town has space to improve the benefits with a text amendment at any public meeting. If they believe the town can and should offer more lucrative incentives, the town manager and council have the power to offer them, Berryman said.

Councilwoman Peggy Harkness said she liked the idea but wondered how the town would market the change. The unique way New Market’s zone would be set up — as a blanket over the entire area rather than having specific zones — offered Harkness an idea.

“We’ve got to promote the notion we have a tourism zone,” Harkness said. “I think our unique twist is that we don’t have a zone, we have a town.”

New and existing businesses will be eligible for the incentives the ordinance offers but existing businesses won’t be grandfathered in. Businesses must either create and maintain one full-time job (30 hours a week); two part-time jobs (14 hours a week); or invest at least $5,000 into their space. Business owners cannot count grants provided by the town in their investment total.

“I think this is the future of what downtown economic development is going to be,” Berryman said. “Ultimately, what we are all doing here is extremely innovative. Small towns can be at the forefront of ideas, and this is exactly that.”

Council members will continue the discussion about the planned ordinance at their next meeting on Monday. Councilmen Scott Wymer and Daryl Watkins were not at Tuesday’s work session. Other members said relevant materials about the ordinance would be included in Monday’s meeting packet so Wymer and Watkins could look over the information.

Town Manager J. Todd Walters and Mayor Doug Bradley were also at Tuesday’s work session. The manager and mayor are non-voting members but were involved in the discussion.

As town manager, Walters will be responsible for handling applications from businesses and inspecting businesses to ensure they comply with qualifications for incentives. He can also delegate inspections if necessary.

Bradley said he is excited about the plan and thinks it moves New Market in the right direction.

“I think it’s an issue we need to address,” he said. “We’ve gone along with the way things are, but now we are opening up some doors, and I’m sure we’re going to have some response, and that’s going to be great for the town.”