Zoning fears temporarily halt Fancy Gap project

By Allen Worrell - aworrell@civitasmedia.com

Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe has temporarily halted an information-gathering effort in an attempt to market the Fancy Gap area of the county after a developer suggested the effort could be a form of zoning.

During the August 10 meeting of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors, Fancy Gap developer Stephen Gregson questioned the board on a letter sent out in July by Larrowe to certain members of the Fancy Gap community. In the letter, Larrowe states Carroll County is interested in working together with property owners to identify property the owner may be interested in developing “and then work with commercial developers to pass the information along.”

In the letter, Larrowe wrote it would be nice to develop a map that shows potential developers property where the owner may be interested in discussing options for the Fancy Gap area. Therefore, he asked select property owners to contact his office and let them know if they would be open to discussion on their property for development.

“There is no guarantee that any activity will take place at Fancy Gap,” Larrowe wrote. “However, it is my hope this note will prompt some commercial development at Fancy Gap to take advantage of the utility infrastructure that we have in place.”

During Citizens’ Time of the Aug. 10 meeting, Gregson questioned the board on several matters involving the letter. He wanted to know who authorized the letter and why it was never discussed in public. He also suggested it could be a form of zoning, and wanted to know exactly what the county’s plan was for Fancy Gap, noting a lack of transparency.

In response, Larrowe sent out another letter on August 21. In the letter, he stated the intention of the first letter was to ask for assistance in gathering information that could be used to market Fancy Gap in a “more deliberate way.” He wrote that the intentions were to basically create a map that would eventually be shared with developers/investors or any other group or individual looking to invest in Fancy Gap.

“We were trying to take some of the intense leg work out of the way so that progress might take place at a higher pace with eventual capital investment and job creation,” Larrowe wrote.

The County Administrator then noted Gregson spoke on Aug. 10 to the Carroll County Board of Supervisors in a “questioning way.”

“He indicated I did not have the authority to ask for the information and that this might be associated with future Zoning,” Larrowe wrote. “The attempt to gather information in NO way had anything to do with Zoning and as Chief Economic Development Officer of Carroll County, I feel that anything I can do to assist in capital investment and job creation is certainly in my prevue. However, due to the questioning of Mr. Gregson, I am halting this project until more direction is given by the Board of Supervisors. If you wish for the project to stop, continue or to be modified, I would encourage you to contact the BOS members or attend the September 14 meeting of the BOS that will start at 5 p.m. in the BOS Meeting Room on the second floor of the Carroll County Governmental Center.”

Gregson Questions Letter

During the Aug. 10 meeting, Gregson said he spoke to several county supervisors about who authorized the endeavor. He said he had not found the answer yet. Gregson said he also looked at minutes of Carroll County Planning Commission meetings. He also talked to their board and “they don’t know of anything either with regards to that.”

“It doesn’t appear we would have anything in closed session that would protect that. So there are several questions that have arose out of this letter,” Gregson said. “The main thing is why there is no record of any type of announcement with regards to this, and then where was the authorization for a county employee to write the letters to these residents, property owners on this issue that has to do with a commercial developer? The letter states the property owners are an integral part of the process.”

Gregson noted when the Carroll County Public Service Authority had to repay $266,167.20 to federal funding agency Rural Development, there was never disclosure to the public (the money was ultimately refunded to the PSA). He said the thing that concerns a lot of people about Larrowe’s initial letter was the use of the name that was capitalized in the letter as a commercial developer.

“So it has many people alarmed out there, concerned that is this going to be a form of zoning on this issue in this specific area. Many people will remember the last meeting we had at Fancy Gap Elementary, there were sheriff’s deputies called into that meeting because of the disfavor of the people using the zoning word,” Gregson said. “So what we would like, if at all possible, is to get some answers on that, and if there is a plan that goes along with this. It talks about how and why the Fancy Gap area only is involved in this plan. Is this going to affect other areas, whether it be Cana or different areas in the county? And then why wasn’t there transparency on the announcement of this issue?”

Gregson also wanted to know if the board could give direction to Fancy Gap on how the issue is going to be handled. He wanted to know if the commercial developer mentioned would be an employee of the county. He also wanted to know who authorized the letter to go out.

Laurel Fork Supervisor Joshua Hendrick asked about the contents of the letter. Larrowe said some landowners in Fancy Gap asked for some assistance with development of the community. Larrowe said Fancy Gap business owner Gina Isom was one of the individuals interested in pushing the project.

“What we ended up doing was coming up with a plan to identify the properties out there around the interchange and down (U.S.) 52 arbitrarily, just so we could end up having something to work off, properties that fronted on to (Route) 148 or onto 52 that would be within the service area of the water and sewer,” Larrowe said, “and also properties that had potential for development because of where their proximity was, or removing some properties because of the topography or because of wetlands or anything of that sort, to get started on the process to identify properties that could potentially be available for development. And then as a group to end up shopping that around to multiple commercial developers, whoever that might end up being, to see if there would be any takers that would come in and work with the landowners.”

Larrowe said the county would in no way be a broker or agent, just a connective tissue between people who might want to develop property and those who actually own property.

“In no way was anything done in a non-transparent way because if it had have been we wouldn’t have sent it out publicly to the individuals who were landowners,” Larrowe said.

The County Administrator noted Carroll used GIS to help with the process in hopes of building a database with names of interested property owners with potential developers. Gregson said this was the first time the public had heard any of that information. He is concerned people against development will “go nuts.” He’s also concerned about the Fancy Gap individuals who did not receive letters.

“It is unbelievable, but there is concern from the people who don’t want any development whatsoever to railroad this thing, and this is what possibly happened at that Fancy Gap meeting we had before. As for transparency, I am absolutely shocked the board members I spoke to know nothing about it whatsoever,” Larrowe said. “And I feel that communication direction of this magnitude needs to come from the board. Asking for a select few from within a specific diagram doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you are trying to look at other parts of county at the same time, if they might benefit from a bigger picture.”

Chairman Phil McCraw said the meeting Gregson spoke about in Fancy Gap where zoning became a hot button topic was prior to his tenure on the board. He called zoning “the Z word.”

“I have never supported it and I never will. I know the people in my district don’t like zoning and I have not been approached by anyone in my district with those concerns you just voiced,” McCraw said. “I’m not saying they don’t happen, but I am in a very public place and I haven’t been approached.”

Hendrick said he was unaware of the letters prior to August 10. He asked Larrowe if the parcels selected for potential development were “prime” areas because of their proximity to water and sewer. He wanted to make sure the county wasn’t acting as a broker. Larrowe said the county got very positive response from many of the landowners in Fancy Gap.

“And as with anything, there are some people who would maybe end up killing the goose with a golden egg,” Larrowe said. “So you never know exactly which direction to go, but we were trying to go into a direction of positive development.”

Perhaps it’s a legal issue, Hendrick said, but he wondered if the county should have sent letters to all Fancy Gap landowners in the target area, even if it knew they would not participate. Larrowe said if a property was off the road and didn’t have access to utilities, they were not contacted.

“It’s all based on the attributes of the property,” said Stephen Durbin, an attorney for Carroll County.

Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN

By Allen Worrell