By Debbie Adams
When Elaine Bays-Murphy, Director of Cable Access for RVTV3, was honored by Vinton Town Council upon her retirement, she remarked that Vinton is “a special place, real, and unique.”
Councilman Keith Liles noted during the council meeting on October 20 that “even during a pandemic, we are an amazing town.”
The reason for their enthusiastic remarks is the state of the town and of business in the town.
While other localities may be reeling from the COVID-19 crisis, Vinton seems to have weathered the storm pretty well. After years of penny-pinching fiscal conservatism, combined with innovative and dynamic leadership from Town Council and staff, Vinton is humming with activity.
Not only is Vinyard Station, with Joe Goodpies restaurant, almost ready to open, two established downtown businesses – Farmburguesa and The Dogwood – have expansion plans underway.
While other localities have given up or given in, the town staff and citizens of Vinton have “worked together well with creative ideas so we can somewhat continue our lifestyle,” said Vice Mayor Sabrina McCarty, in praising the community for providing in-person events such as Mingle at the Market concerts over the summer, Fall Festival, National Night Out, Halloween Movie Night, and an upcoming Christmas parade in reverse (the floats stand still – the viewers drive through).
Town staff has made every effort to abide by health guidelines to ensure the safety of citizens, but they have not wasted time in wringing hands; they have stepped up and thought outside the box.
The Town Council meeting on October 20 (held via Zoom) opened with a proclamation for Bays-Murphy, who has highlighted the town and its accomplishments through her years on RVTV – she has put Vinton on the map as a destination.
Next up, Interim Police Chief Fabricio Drumond announced prestigious awards presented to officers at their recent 2020 Awards Banquet. Officer Brandon Alterio was chosen by his peers as Officer of the Year for 2019. Sgt. Michael Caldwell was presented with the Leadership Award for 2019 by his peers. Cpl. Jordan Keith received the Traffic Safety Award; Cpl. Jeremy Shrewsbury was awarded the Traffic Safety DUI Award.
Council held a public hearing on a Small Cell Franchise Agreement with Cox Wireless Access for the placement of small cell facilities throughout the Town of Vinton, with action to be taken at the November 3 meeting. Town attorney Jeremy Carroll noted that the town has been negotiating with Cox since it submitted the only bid for the franchise in November 2019.
Council and staff have remained adamant that the cell facilities not become an eyesore in the downtown business district. In the franchise agreement, the licensee is encouraged to place, attach, or co-locate equipment and antennas on “government buildings in a manner such that equipment may make maximum use of parapets or other camouflaging opportunities and traffic light poles.” Cox is prohibited from placing, attaching, or co-locating equipment and antennas on, or replacing, or guying “decorative ornamental pedestrian streetlight poles and other structures built or improved under the terms of the 2015 Community Development Block Grant.”
After a report from Principal Planner Nathan McClung, council adopted a resolution allowing staff to re-apply for a $1.3 million grant for a housing rehabilitation project in the Cedar Avenue/West Cleveland Avenue area.
Although its first grant application was denied, the town was encouraged to modify the application and reapply for funding which will provide housing rehabilitation for eight homes (both owner-occupied and investor-owned); and provide for acquisition of properties in the floodplain with relocation of affected residents, demolition of the units, and clearance of the structures. The grant will fund infrastructure improvements to water supply facilities and ADA Accessible Pedestrian facilities (sidewalks) and pay for blight removal.
Finance Director Anne Cantrell updated council members on the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, which covers water lines, sewer lines, and interior plumbing for Vinton residents and the ServLine Utilities Protection Program which covers water and sewer leak billing.
On September 1, council heard a presentation from representatives of the two programs. The Virginia Municipal League (VML) has endorsed the NLC Service Line Warranty Program. Offered at no cost to League members, the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, Inc. (USP), educates homeowners about their service line responsibilities and offers affordable protection from unanticipated service line repair costs. Homeowners in participating cities and towns are eligible to purchase low-cost repair service plans for broken or leaking outside water and sewer lines, covering up to $8,500 per occurrence. Discussion will continue at a future council meeting.
Acting Town Manager/Economic Development Director Pete Peters presented a report on the recent Economic Development Committee meeting where the Hotel Site Marketing Proposal was discussed, along with expansion plans for Farmburguesa and The Dogwood.
A hotel study has been completed by DPC Hospitality who evaluated market conditions and hotel demand for a site at Pollard Street and Cedar Avenue and analyzed the costs to develop the site. This was done both pre- and post-COVID-19. DPC Hospitality will market the site for the town through the use of EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant funding. The next step is to cast a wider net for larger developers outside of the Roanoke Valley interested in building an 80-room hotel in Vinton as the tourism industry is expected to rebound in 2022.
As for Farmburguesa, business has been booming despite the pandemic; the restaurant presented a proposal to council to purchase the vacant lot between the Municipal Building and Farmburguesa on Pollard Street.
At the time, the restaurant owners did not own the building the restaurant is located in. They have since entered into an ownership partnership with the owner of the building and will eventually become the sole owners.
Plans include constructing a service window for to-go and curbside delivery, a brick paver patio with an enclosed wooden awning, a much-needed dry and cold storage building addition, and an enclosed dumpster pad with an access drive, and expanding the kitchen with increased capacity through an automated grill.
Seating will be added for 46 additional patrons. An additional side entrance for staff will be constructed, along with pet-friendly seating. The restaurant plans to add an ABC license.
The town will most likely lease the property to Farmburguesa to begin with, with the potential of eventually selling the property to the restaurant owners over several years through a lease-to-own agreement.
Discussions have been underway with The Dogwood for about two years on its project. The ownership group has expanded and plans to increase indoor seating within the storefront next door, adding seating for 48 patrons. An evening dinner menu and bar are also planned.
The Dogwood also intends to construct a brick paver patio with seating for 46 additional patrons. Additional side entrances will be added. The town owns the patio space which leads down to the parking lot at Joe Goodpies and Vinyard Station. A lease agreement is being developed.
Peters noted that the town is delighted that “folks are making additional investments in Vinton. Business breeds business.”
Cantrell presented a positive report on finances. Revenues from June through August have been higher than expected and outpaced expenditures. Cash ($3.4 million) and investments ($3.2 million) on-hand at the end of August 2020 were $6.6 million. She described it as “the best August I have seen as treasurer.”
Public Works Director Joey Hiner reported on the most recent Public Works Committee meeting. The Glade Creek Greenway sewer line replacement project visible from Gus Nicks Boulevard will be completed around the end of October. About 550 feet of sewer line were replaced.
Crosswalks are being painted at the Hardy/Vinyard Road and Pollard Street/Washington Avenue intersections which are adding pedestrian signals. The intersection improvements should be complete by the end of the year.
Bulk collection is being monitored after the switch to biweekly collection in August as to whether to maintain the schedule or return to weekly collection.