October 2, 2014
ISLE OF WIGHT — County staff presented an ambitious new plan Friday to kickstart development in the northern end of Isle of Wight, close the gap on some of the county’s funding issues and address some concerns of local residents about what the county has to offer.
According to preliminary results from the county’s citizen survey, Isle of Wight has a reputation as a quiet, rural community with small-town charm that provides a safe place to live – all things respondents liked.
The flip side is that people taking the survey said Isle of Wight is in the middle of nowhere, with little retail shopping or entertainment. They said Isle of Wight also isn’t perceived as business-friendly.
County Administrator Anne Seward and planner Richard Rudnicki laid out a plan to bolster development in the Newport Development Service District – an area in Carrollton between Smithfield and the Suffolk line that encompasses land along Carrollton and Brewers Neck boulevards.
At a retreat for the Board of Supervisors and the county’s planning commission, Rudnicki told the officials that 62 percent of the county’s population lives within five miles of the intersection of Brewer’s Neck and Benns Church boulevards, but the area still doesn’t have the population density to attract a Starbucks or IHOP.
The staff proposal is a long-term effort to increase population density in that development district. The thinking is that increased density would attract more commercial development, including large retailers and restaurants – the lack of which was one of the main complaints from respondents to the county survey.
“That’s a very hot corridor. (Commercial retailers) are excited and they want to come, but they need to see that density,” Seward said.
The increased population density and more commercial retail would, in turn, give people more of a reason to live and stay in Isle of Wight, broaden the tax base, raise property values and lower the average age of the county – a point emphasized by Seward, who said the young people of the county are increasingly moving away and this kind of development could woo them to stay. The average age in Isle of Wight is around 43 or 44, Seward said.
The plan advises the county to expand the Newport district and revise some zoning and land-use definitions to enable this kind of urban residential development. Neither the board nor the commission took any action on Friday.
Rudnicki said classifying the area as a special taxing district would let the people living there give input on what they want – be it beautification or transportation or infrastructure improvements – and the Newport service district could pay an additional tax to cover the improvements they want to see.
Some supervisors and commissioners were cautious about the plan, including Supervisor Al Casteen, who said the tax area concept may discourage some businesses from moving in.
Seward said the corridor already has improvements that need to be covered and this avenue would not only give the county some capitol, but enable it to leverage that money to seek matching grants from the state.
She said some aspects of the project may take some money up front, but there’s a cost to doing nothing.
“That’s kind of been our strategy so far. As we’ve seen, the taxes have risen and risen,” Seward said. She said citizens are currently paying about 15 cents of their real estate tax rate “as the cost of doing nothing” to cover a $6 million shortfall in general fund spending. Projections without this new development plan show the county tax rate climbing from the current 85 cents per $100 of assessed value to around $1.40.
“(That) means that our community continues to be somewhere where our children aren’t staying. They’re leaving and going to these other places to live and work,” Seward said.
The plan to create a dense population center will also ensure the agrarian way of life won’t be muscled out as the county seeks to expand the tax base.
“What I like best about this scenario is we’re 85 percent rural today and we remain 85 percent rural. We can keep that culture and that feel,” she said.