NEW MARKET – Dozens of citizens, business owners, landowners and real estate developers crowded into the Town Hall on Tuesday evening to talk with each other and town leaders about how to develop New Market for the future.

Town Manager Todd Walters said he has been working on this meeting for at least six months. All the work he and the Town Council, along with the Planning Commission, put in would be fruitless without input from the town’s residents, he said.

Tuesday’s meeting offered everyone a chance to sit, or stand, before the leaders of their town and tell them what they hoped New Market could become; what was standing in the way and suggest solutions to those problems.

“A municipality can only do so much,” Walters said. “Eventually, it takes someone to step out and say 'I’m willing to rehab that building'…there’s only so much a town can do.”

Towns can’t force development but, Walters said, New Market is trying to create a friendly environment for it to flourish.

A lot of attention was given to housing and whether developing residential lots would be a boon or bane for the town.

Councilwoman Peggy Harkness said it was crucial for the town to start developing residential spaces to draw younger families. While it might not provide a large chunk of change for the tax base, those families will come in and spend money in town, she said.

“One of the things we’ve lacked in New Market is trying to bring in some new, younger families,” Harkness said. “We’ve wanted to bring interest in bringing in younger families. In doing that, we bring housing [needs] into New Market, which we just don’t have.”

Walters made it clear the town is aiming for controlled development, not “out-of-control retail housing.” Since he started a little over a year ago, only three homes have gone up, he said, adding that he would like to see a little more than that.

Jenna French, the county director of economic development and tourism, said the key for growth in the towns up and down the county is to identify their niche market. By drilling down on what they have to offer rather than trying to be like their neighbors, French said, each town will have the tools to thrive.

Historically, the town of New Market’s niche has been history. The entire town was the site of the battle of New Market in the Civil War. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has its headquarters in New Market and, according to Keven Walker, the CEO of the foundation, it has no plans to leave.

Walker said he views the relationship between the town and the foundation as a mutually beneficial one.

“This is the heart of the Shenandoah Valley,” Walker said about New Market. “It’s the heart of our organization. This is our hometown.”

“Everywhere is a Civil War battlefield in the valley,” Walker continued. “But New Market is different.”

The Battlefields Foundation is a key player in one of the biggest development projects happening in town right now. The greenway and walking trail development, for which Walker said he hopes to have sample construction completed by this summer, will provide a draw for outdoor and history enthusiasts alike.

Jon Henry, the proprietor of Jon Henry’s General Store in New Market, said the town needs to consider investing in tourism outside of the Civil War.

Henry said the town has already invested heavily in historic, Civil War-focused tourism, but they are missing an opportunity when it comes to advertising the natural resources surrounding the town. He said most tourists who come through his store in town are headed to ecotourism locations such as Shenandoah National Park, the forest or the caverns.

Walker said projects like the walking trail are exactly what New Market needs — leveraging a historic battlefield to appeal to more than history buffs and Civil War aficionados.

More important than anything, the audience agreed, was to emphasize the quality of life New Market has.

“I took this job for two reasons,” Walters said. “I thought there was opportunity for me. And I thought there was opportunity for New Market. I think there’s opportunity here, and I think we can do a lot.”

Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com