IOW approves economic development policy

Published 10:27 am Saturday, July 17, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—After an hour-long public hearing, a divided Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors approved a policy Thursday that offers incentives to encourage the development of commercial and mixed-use projects.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the policy, which targets developments that meet certain size, employment and new taxable investment requirements. Supervisors JoAnn Hall from the Hardy District and Al Casteen from the Smithfield District voted against the policy.

The proposed incentives include review fee waivers, an expedited review process, connection/tap fee reinvestment, proffer flexibility, an economic development incentive grant, the establishment of a community development authority, the establishment of a tax increment financing district and other incentives the board deems appropriate.

“It seems to me what you have here is an opportunity to level the playing field,” said William Riddick, a Smithfield attorney who often comes before the board representing businesses and developers.

He said the county has “a bad reputation” among commercial and residential developers and the new policy “sends a huge message to the community.”

Beverly Walkup, the county’s planning and zoning director, said the incentives could draw in more prospects to help make up lost revenue from International Paper Co., Smithfield Foods and slowing residential growth.

Not everyone was pleased with the incentive policy—especially a provision that allows incentives for multifamily housing developments if they’re developed in conjunction with a commercial development.

“I have no problem with commercial businesses and economic development, but it should be true economic development and not apartments,” said county resident Dee Dee Darden.

Hall said she “didn’t feel comfortable” with the way the policy was written.

“I’m not ready to do this,” she said. “I think we need to sit down and hash it out.”

Board Chairman Phillip Bradshaw, who represents the Carrsville District, said the policy “is nothing but a tool” for the board to use to encourage development, which is seriously needed in parts of the county.

“There are a lot of people in this county that have to drive 15 or 20 minutes just to get to the grocery store,” he said. “You get out in the rural areas and that’s what we deal with.”

Newport District Supervisor Stan Clark said the policy could help bring commercial development—like a grocery store—to parts of the county “where it might not otherwise come.”