By Debbie Adams
Vinton Town Council and the Vinton Planning Commission unanimously approved the rezoning of the historic Gish Mill property from M-1 (Limited Industrial) to Mixed Use Development (MUD) District at their joint meeting on April 6. The rezoning will allow Gish Mill to be redeveloped into a mixed-use property to accommodate restaurant, retail, residential, and lodging uses. Approval was granted after a public hearing at the council meeting.
Vinton Principal Planner Nathan McClung reviewed the project in depth at the public hearing—a presentation he had made previously to council at the March meeting and to the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. The project has been under discussion at various council meetings for years since the town purchased the property in 2015 at an investment cost of $126,000 (including both property and legal fees).
Two main concerns exist with the Gish Mill property—it lies in the 100-year flood plain and parts of the building date from the 1770s. The town and developers Gish Mill Davii, LLC (David Hill and David Trinkle), needed to determine the feasibility of redeveloping the property and whether it would be safe.
Assessments have determined that the building is structurally sound. Draper Aden Associates has verified that the project will not cause a rise in the base flood elevation. Variances to the flood plain ordinance were granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals on March 30. The Planning Commission recommended going forward with the project as well.
Plans are for the property on Gus Nicks Boulevard along Glade Creek to accommodate a small restaurant (5,030 square feet), a seasonal market (1,250 square feet), a speakeasy in the basement (1,296 square feet), the conversion of the original mill structure, concrete silos, and upper second and third floors of the original mill into lodging with potential use for 3-10 apartment units (5,800 square feet) and outdoor dining, deck, and patio space (3,564 square feet). The site will retain its architectural character and its environmental setting.
According to the presentation, the redevelopment project will generate private investment in excess of $1.9 million, create approximately 41 jobs, and “result in the rehabilitation of a historic, yet currently blighted property located on one of the three main gateways into the town with an average daily traffic count of 21,000 vehicles.”
Gish Mill has operated continuously since the 1770s, and as a farm supply store (Holdren’s Country Store) and warehouse in its final years before closing in 2014. The Town of Vinton purchased the property in October 2015 due to its historical significance with the hopes of eventually returning it to commercial use. After issuing an RFP in 2019, the town received a proposal from Gish Mill Davii, LLC, to convert the property to mixed-use development. A contract was signed in April 2020.
Phase I and II environmental assessments have been completed, as well as historic reviews which are necessary for the property to be listed on the National Register by the Department of Historic Resources.
Grant funds have been obtained from two state government agencies which make the project financially feasible. Those grants include the DHR Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund for $250,000 for repair and stabilization of the property and a loan of $468,750 through the Economic Development Authority from the Department of Housing and Community Development Industrial Revitalization Fund.
Hill commented that in redeveloping the “treasured historic site” and “bringing economic vitality to the town,” it is necessary to accept and deal with the fact that the property lies within the floodplain. The redevelopment team has incorporated many unique design features into the site and architectural plans to compensate for that challenge.
McClung told council that the architectural team has addressed the flood issue from both safety and design aspects. He described one of those unique features as installation of 41-44 flood vents placed strategically throughout the structure in case of a flood event. Utilities will be elevated. Waterproof insulation will be used. Plumbing fixtures will be used which prevent back-ups. Proposed lodging is far above the flood level, with a greater buffer than required.
He walked council and the Planning Commission through a set of site plans, schematics, and architectural renderings.
(drawings courtesy Town of Vinton and Gish Mill Davii, LLC)
Town staff recommended the rezoning as “the redevelopment of the property will promote and encourage the economic vitality of the community and preserve a historic building while providing increased economic investment. Additionally, the proposed uses will not adversely affect adjoining properties and will enhance the neighborhood by taking an important historical structure and repurposing it for a suitable alternative use that maintains the historic architecture and setting of the buildings. Adequate utilities and public facilities are already in place to serve the proposed end uses.”
The Gish Mill property will be the third MUD rezoning in the town in recent years. Two previous projects included the redevelopment of Roland E. Cook Elementary into the Roland E. Cook Lofts (Hill was involved with that project) and the Billy Byrd Apartments, which redeveloped the former William Byrd High School. According to the town, “both projects have proven to be a benchmark of success in the revitalization of historic buildings through the utilization of historic tax credit programs and local government coordination (Vinton and Roanoke County).
Planning Commissioner Dave Jones commented that “Town Council has taken a lot of heat” from naysayers initially for purchasing the property. “Some advised tearing it down.” He went on to note that Gish Mill is “an important part of the town,” even appearing on the Vinton Town Seal, and “has been there forever.” It is located at one of the three gateways into the community.
Mayor Brad Grose said that its gateway location will—after development—”set a good tone for the town.”
Councilman Keith Liles commended the “genius on the town staff” who originally asked David Hill to design proposals for the use of the Gish Mill property before eventually taking on the redevelopment project himself.
In other business, council issued a proclamation declaring April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and thanked the GFWC Vinton Woman’s Club and the Vinton Police Department who partnered to plant a pinwheel garden at the Municipal Building to bring public awareness to the event. Woman’s Club member Kathryn Sowers addressed council on child abuse issues, why the GFWC clubs across the nation have taken on the annual project and expressed her thanks to the Vinton Police for their assistance.
Council also held a public hearing on setting real estate, personal property, and machinery and tool tax rates for 2021, led by Finance Director Anne Cantrell. The Town of Vinton real estate assessment value has increased by approximately 4.85 percent (a $24.9 million increase to $533 million) this calendar year, minus new construction, increasing tax revenues by $17,459.
Council adopted a resolution setting the tax rates for 2021. Real estate taxes will remain at $.07 per $100 of assessed value. Personal property tax rates will remain at $1 per $100 of assessed value.
Council also adopted a resolution, which they were briefed on at the last council meeting, to approve a new General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance Policy. The main changes of the policy include the creation of a policy floor of two months General Fund budgeted revenues, and a policy target of four months General Fund budgeted revenues. Unrestricted Fund Balance in excess of the policy target can be used to fund one-time projects or capital needs that were unable to be funded in the previous or current budget.