Town works with UDA consultants to revise zoning ordinances

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From left, consultant Vlad Gavrilovic from EPR, Vinton Planning and Zoning Director Anita McMillan, and urban planner Max Pastore from Rhodeside & Harwell, led the discussion on Urban Development Areas, revision of town zoning ordinances, and transportation funding at a meeting on January 25.

In 2015 the Town of Vinton applied for an Urban Development Area (UDA) Planning Grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment.

With more transportation projects than transportation dollars, the state had arrived at a new method of encouraging localities to narrow the focus on where those dollars should be spent. Localities choosing to identify Urban Development Areas (UDA) in their communities increase the likelihood of qualifying for available transportation funding.

The aim of identifying UDAs is to encourage targeted growth in communities rather than sprawl. Localities are urged to concentrate future development where public infrastructures can be provided with the greatest fiscal efficiency.

The town was subsequently awarded a grant of $65,000 to assist in evaluating and analyzing what areas in the town could be considered to be UDAs. A team of consultants helped the town to complete a projection for growth based on the land use for 10 to 20 years in the future.

A UDA Advisory Committee, made up of members of county and town government, including the planning and zoning department, members of Vinton planning and zoning boards, and business owners, was appointed and spent about eight months working with the consultants in identifying eight possible UDA sites within the town which they believe will have the likelihood to attract and retain private investors, while maximizing public investment and resources. At one point there was even a bus tour of the town.

Participants compared in detail the eight identified sites in an attempt to prioritize them for development and funding. Consideration was given to visibility and traffic count, linear frontage, under-utilized sites and acreage, site mitigation, and the state of the existing infrastructure.

PHOTO COURTESY OF RHODESIDE & HARWELL
Planning grants have enabled the Town of Vinton to identify Urban Development Areas to enhance the opportunity for transportation funding. 
  • Site One identified is the downtown business area
  • Site Two is the Hardy Road Gateway near the CVS Pharmacy
  • Site Three is the Bypass Road/Hardy Road “Mid-Town” area, which encompasses the Lake Drive and River Park shopping centers
  • Site Four is Mid-Washington Avenue near the old library site and Vinton War Memorial
  • Site Five is the Virginia Avenue Gateway near PFG and the Glade/Tinker Creek Greenway
  • Site Six is the Virginia Avenue Corridor from South Pollard to Niagara Road
  • Site Seven is the Walnut Avenue Gateway near Southern States leading to downtown Roanoke
  • Site Eight is the Washington Avenue Gateway headed out of town to Route 24

In the fall of 2017, the town was awarded an additional UDA Planning Grant for the purpose of reviewing and amending the current zoning and subdivision ordinances.

“The additional grant provides us with consultant services to assist town personnel in reviewing and amending the current zoning and subdivision ordinances, which may include adopting design guidelines,” said Anita McMillan, Vinton’s Director of Planning and Zoning.

This grant will help review alignment of town codes with the Comprehensive Plan and UDA requirements; propose a new zoning framework, and outline an urban design framework.

Last Thursday, Jan. 25, the town began work on this second phase of the UDA process.  Vlad Gavrilovic, a transportation and community planning specialist from EPR in Charlottesville, along with urban planners Max Pastore and Sam Shreder from the urban design firm Rhodeside & Harwell in Alexandria, joined the UDA Advisory Committee to narrow the focus of the UDA sites selected back in 2016.

Mayor Brad Grose thanked McMillan for her persistent work in securing grants such as this one for the town, in the process creating a repository of strategic plans that build upon one another, enabling the funding of even more grants.

Grose praised the UDA process, which will help Vinton “know what we want to be and to develop a vision of what we can look like. Planning and zoning is the first step.”

Rhodeside and Harwell and EPR have worked locally on UDA projects with other localities in Salem, Botetourt County, and Franklin County. The consultants presented overviews of those projects, as well as others in Falls Church and Hopewell.

Much of the discussion during the January 25 meeting centered on Vinton’s downtown business district, attracting more businesses, and creating a market for already existing businesses– especially restaurants to remain open later in the evening– striving for an 18-24-hour downtown.

Gavrilovic said that while the population in downtown Vinton and adjacent areas is growing, there will be a need for sidewalks, crosswalks, and perhaps traffic slowing techniques to facilitate attracting those people into the downtown area. Infrastructure needs in the downtown area present a challenge as well.

Dale Wilkinson, of Old School Partners who redeveloped the Roland E. Cook Lofts, said that the town needs to focus on the bigger picture and facilitate a broader vision for the future of the town.

“People like to go where others have bought in,” noted Wilkinson.

He noted that the Old School Partners were attracted to the Roland E. Cook project because of the resolute cooperation of the town and county, their willingness to amend town codes to add Mixed Use zoning, and the town’s comprehensive strategic planning, including community involvement, in the process. The town in essence facilitated the process, coordinating public and private interests.

Wilkinson commented that one purpose of the UDA project and zoning changes would be to set up a framework for “someone to come in and take a chance on Vinton; catching the attention of potential businesses encourages investment.”

There was discussion of “home run” industries such as Deschutes that are not feasible in Vinton, but, instead, of adding the “base hits” of smaller businesses and industries, such as Twin Creeks Brewing, which are feasible, and which will attract businesses and visitors, growing the tax base and revenues.

Gavrilovic said that in Charlottesville, the redevelopment of the downtown area, adding housing and entertainment, had led to business development and changed the face of the town. He emphasized the need for creating “complete streets” which will accommodate pedestrians, cars, transit, and bikes.

Several attendees mentioned barriers and perceived barriers to progress, including the need to streamline Vinton’s zoning processes and cut red tape, infrastructure insufficiencies that are expensive to address, parking availability, and financial incentives for businesses to open in Vinton.

There were comments about the “synergy” which now exists in the town, with so many successful projects completed in just a few years and more both under way and on the horizon.

Everyone agreed that quality was more important than quantity in economic development.

The town intends to continue its evolution from “drive through” to “drive to,” becoming a destination on its own. Tim Greenway commented that the town needs to slow down people coming and going through the town, so they have the opportunity to notice what is here.

A consensus seemed to form that the initial focus for this grant should be on the downtown UDA.  The consultants will take the input from the Advisory Committee, prioritize, and redefine the scope of the project from eight UDA sites to a smaller, more manageable number and develop guidelines that are site-specific. They will return this spring with zoning and design recommendations and share those with the Advisory Committee, Town Council, and with the entire community at a public meeting.