By Debbie Adams
The Vinton Town Council meeting on March 16 was lengthy with two public hearings and an information-packed agenda. The two best pieces of news to emerge were council’s adoption of a resolution authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds in the amount of $4.37 million in new debt to pay for capital improvement projects for the town’s water and sewer facilities and $4.45 million in refinancing old debt for a total not to exceed $8.85 million in the total loan, including closing costs. The projects include $2 million for an upgraded meter system, $1.95 million for improvements to the 3rd Street Lift Station that handles all the wastewater of the town, and $370,000 for SCADA upgrades.
Courtney Rogers from Davenport & Company went through the timeline of events that led to the decision, beginning with a presentation to council on February 16 of a Plan of Finance for the projects. The plan recommended that the town fund the projects with a General Obligation Bond issued as a direct bank loan.
On February 19, Davenport distributed a Request for Proposal to over 25 local, regional, and national lending institutions to solicit interest rates for the 2021 bond. The banks were also asked to provide interest rate options for potential refinancing of existing town debt for savings purposes. The loans to be refinanced included a 2006A VRA Bond for $305,000, a 2013 Bond for $1.2 million, and a Virginia Revolving Loan of $1.595 million.
Banks were asked to submit proposals with two options: one with separate rates for financing the New Money and the Refunding Money (of existing town debt) and another with the two components combined.
Six lending proposals were received. Davenport recommended working with Zions Bank, which submitted the lowest proposal bid with interest rates under Option 1 of 1.64% for New Money and 1.75% for Refunding Money, and 1.66% under Option 2 (both combined). Option 2 was selected to include refinancing of the 2006A VRA Bond and the 2013 Bond.
Additionally, the town accepted a revised rate of 1% offered by the VRA for refinancing the Virginia Revolving Loans, saving the town approximately $89,000.
A public hearing was held on the New Money portion of the bond with no comments received from citizens. Closing is expected on the 2021 Bond around March 31.
The second most exciting presentation of the meeting was a briefing by Principal Planner Nathan McClung and David Hill of Hill Studio and Gish Mill Davii, LLC, on the proposed rezoning of the historic Gish Mill properties from M-1 Mixed Industrial to Mixed Use Development (MUD) District to allow for the properties to be redeveloped. Town staff has recommended that the rezoning request for Mixed Use zoning be approved.
The property on Gus Nicks Boulevard along Glade Creek would accommodate a restaurant, retail, residential, and lodging uses, specifically 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.
The anticipated tenant to operate the restaurant and lodge has been secured. And lest this project sounds too ambitious, partner David Hill was a member of the redevelopment team for the highly successful Roland E. Cook Lofts project and heavily involved with the downtown revitalization project.
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 (at a cost of approximately $120,000) 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, (David Hill and David Trinkle) to convert the property to mixed-use development. A contract was signed in April 2020.
Phase I and II environmental assessments have been completed. Historic reviews have been completed 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.
The town has also secured funding through VDOT’s Surface Transportation Block Grant for a pedestrian mid-block crossing on Gus Nicks Boulevard to provide a safe means of travel from the Gish Mill site to the almost completed Glade Creek Phase II project and the Billy Byrd apartments.
Hill described the Gish Mill project as “very complicated” with many hoops to jump through. One of those hoops has been the verification this month by Draper Aden Associates that the proposed redevelopment project will not cause a rise in the base flood elevation. Specific variances to the floodplain ordinance must be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals; a meeting is scheduled for March 30. A joint public hearing of the Planning Commission and Town Council will be held on the rezoning request on April 6.
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.
In other council business, Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director John Hull presented an update on their activities in 2020—despite the pandemic.
Council adopted a resolution (after a public hearing) approving a lease to Cargill Animal Nutrition (formerly Southern States) for eight lots to be used for temporary parking for trailers and an employee parking area. Council was briefed on the issue at a previous meeting. The term of lease will be for one 15-month term and three additional one-year renewals at a total cost of $800 per year–$100 per parcel. The property was originally acquired by the town through a FEMA flood mitigation project and thus cannot be sold or built upon. The entire annual lease revenue will be donated to the Vinton Needy Family Program.
Finance Director Anne Cantrell briefed council on proposed revisions to the town’s General Fund Reserve Policy that will be acted upon at their next meeting. The main changes include 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.
Council also adopted resolutions they were briefed on in past meetings:
- A resolution was adopted authorizing the town manager to execute an agreement for Application, Hosting and Technology Support Services between Avenu Enterprise Solutions, LLC, and the town to preserve legacy data for the town’s current financial software.
- A resolution was adopted appropriating $35,000 from Fund Balance to the Utility Fund Special Projects Expense Account for unresolved change orders on the Glade Creek Sanitary Sewer Line Relocation Project. In the course of the project, the town noticed exposure of the sewer line and decided to relocate it. Unfortunately, the town had to change vendors resulting in unplanned charges. During the relocation of the sewer line project, the contractor encountered rock charges not accounted for during the original contract price.
- A resolution was adopted appropriating $1 million from Unrestricted Fund Balance and $150,000 from increased estimated revenue to the Town’s Capital Fund for CIP and one-time projects, including improvements to the Municipal Building, Clearview Drive traffic signal upgrades, Hardy Road repaving, and Glade Creek stabilization.
- A resolution was also adopted approving Town of Vinton support of financing by the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority.
Council approved the January 2021 Financial Report which indicated General Fund revenues were 118% of expectations while expenditures were 84% of budget expectations. Cash on hand was $4 million with investments of $3.2 million for a total of cash and investments of $7.3 million.
Cantrell presented a per capita comparison of debt in Vinton to 35 Virginia localities. Vinton ranked 30th with a current debt balance of $11 million, or $1363 per capita. Once the new debt from the 2021 Bond is taken on, the ranking will be 23rd among localities listed with $15.3 million in debt or $1901 per capita.
Police Chief Fabricio Drumond announced that the police department has received a grant for $14,120 to be used for recruitment and retention of police officers.
Council will next meet on April 6.