FAYETTEVILLE — A session that some had anticipated to be a contentious gathering turned out to be a frank meeting of the minds in Fayette County Commission chambers on Friday, Jan. 29.
Prior to the final January meeting of the county commission, two items had concerned some area residents.
Commissioner Tom Louisos had requested a discussion be scheduled on coal reallocated funds used by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA), and Commissioner Allison Taylor, who took office this year, had requested a discussion on a decision to put a moratorium on the URA making agreements without commission approval.
Questioned by Louisos, Jeff Proctor, URA chair, addressed the commission on its current status pertaining to development at Wolf Creek Park.
“As you know, we have applied for an AML (Abandoned Mine Lands) grant like many other applicants. $16 million went to the HyperLoop and the $240 million worth of applicants asked for the remaining $9 million and it didn’t go very far. Very few other applications were approved so, unfortunately, neither the Upper Kanawha Valley nor our application were approved,” Proctor said.
“However, we intend to continue to work with the West Virginia Land Trust. We also will continue to pursue other avenues to find a way … so that we can find a developer to build additional housing and close this chapter, which I know you would really like to close.
“…It’s our goal to extend utilities further on up (into the park) so that it becomes more advantageous for a developer and we have an application … that Gabe (Peña, county resource coordinator) is going to present that is an ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) construction application to extend (utilities). Obviously, there’s 162 acres; there’s 75 developable on the peak of the land and in order for this to become a feasible project, we obviously need to find a way to eliminate or transfer a large portion of that property to the West Virginia Land Trust…,” he said, adding the hope is to sell 750 acres of the 1,000-acre mixed development park to the WVLT.
“The ultimate goal is to position this property so that we can be ready to tee it up for the digital revolution that has begun where people, WVU has pointed out that there are a lot of people in big cities that want to be closer to recreational resources who can work from anywhere and can work from home,” he said.
Proctor also pointed out that businessman/philanthropist Brad Smith, a Kenova native who served as the CEO of Intuit for 10 years, has expressed his support of the idea.
“(Smith) is totally supportive of the idea that West Virginia needs to transition itself and that … Fayette County … is one of three key areas (in West Virginia that is poised to attract people from big cities). We are at the pinnacle of being able to attract them,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to see support from them and John Chambers from Cisco is also part of that mindset.”
Questioned about the amount of money still owed by the URA for the initial purchase of the land, as well as the most recent audit, the commission was told a total of $2.1 million is owed and the loans come due in September 2022.
“I want to make it really clear that the URA can move this project forward,” Proctor stressed. “We need to put a bow and a ribbon and extend the utilities, sell the 7 acres (zoned for commercial use) and find money, whether it’s through an AML grant or some other thing, and put this in the WVLT and it is done. It is ready to … find a developer to develop additional housing. The project’s done. It’ll be out of the county’s hands. … This is ultimately what we’re trying to do to help you put this thing to bed,” he said.
“I’m not against you guys,” Louisos told Proctor. “I’m not against the project. I would like to work with you. I want the problem solved and I have some ideas.”
“Tom, we always have been open and welcomed any participation by the commission. All these years, we’ve had a commissioner on our board … for years and years. We have two seats open and we would welcome one of the commissioners to take one of those seats on our board. We would be more than happy to set up a meeting … to review the loan and invite … any of the county commissioners to participate. … We are with you 100 percent. If we could get them to reduce that loan by any amount, it would be a win-win for everyone,” Proctor said.
“We would love your help and we, too, share your vision of solving the problem.”
After listening to the extensive discussion, Taylor decided against making a motion about a moratorium on the URA.
“I don’t want to come in here and start throwing people around,” she said.
“I still have some concerns and I understand the URA does share my concerns. … I really want to work together. I have an appreciation that the URA’s concerned also,” she said.
“I think we’ve got a cooperative environment between us right now. I’m not going to move to put a moratorium on anything.”
Before the end of the meeting, Louisos was assigned to represent the commission on the URA board.
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Fayette County adopted its most recent amendments to the Fayette County Comprehensive Development Plan on Oct. 14, 2011.
Even before that, the county’s Unified Development Code was revised in September 2009 to add the U.S. Route 19, U.S. Route 60 and Route 16 Corridor Overlay District.
On Friday, the commission unanimously approved motions to send the Fayette County Comprehensive Development Plan and the corridor overlay section of the UDC to the county Planning Commission for updating.
“They both need work,” Taylor said after her motions had been approved unanimously by the three-member panel.
Louisos had requested in November that the commission amend and remove the Route 19 overlay from the UDC in an effort to spur economic development. After comments from Commissioner John Brenemen, now commission president, and then President Denise Scalph, regarding the fact that the process was scheduled to begin early this year, the two commissioners voted against Louisos’ motion, saying the plan would be fully addressed in the scheduled 2021 update.
In the regularly scheduled update, the Planning Commission will schedule public meetings to invite input from the county’s residents. Meeting information will be announced as soon as it is available.
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In other action:
• The commission appointed Ruth Lanier, the county's CFO, as acting county administrator following the retirement of 36-year employee Debbie Berry. The commission will advertise the position for a permanent administrator.
• The commission voted unanimously to put an end to free leave for employees related to Covid-19 and to revert to the county’s regular leave policy.
• Tabled several actions for further study.
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The commission will next meet on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 9 a.m.
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