January 21, 2015
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
At least 90 people attended a public hearing Tuesday night on a pending $700,000 grant application for projects related to the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative.
After the estimated $12.9 million, multi-phase master plan was presented, several people in the audience spoke in favor, and some asked questions. No one spoke in opposition.
The Harvest Foundation created the collaborative in 2013 to bring community leaders “to develop a shared vision for placemaking and destination tourism for Bassett, Stanleytown, Fieldale and Koehler,” Nancy Cox, senior program officer for Harvest, said in a news release.
“The first product of the collaborative was a map of the 15 Magical Miles (Bassett to Koehler), which features annual events, recreation, industrial heritage, historic sites and dining, shopping and lodging,” Jeb Bassett, co-chairman of the collaborative, has said.
The master plan calls for a connection of trails along the Smith River; town squares in Bassett and Fieldale; special event spaces in Bassett and Fieldale; distinctive street lighting, signs and landscaping; and building improvements (public and private).
By community, the plan calls for:
• Bassett: town square/greenspace; streetscape downtown; facade improvement program; Bassett train depot enhancements; festival and music park; bait shop/outfitter.
• Fieldale: town square, community center grounds; streetscape downtown; facade improvement program; splash park aquatic center.
• Stanleytown: corridor landscaping, gateway/interpretive signs.
• Koehler: community and interpretive signs.
• Throughout the project area, walking and biking trails.
Phase 1 calls for: Bassett Town Square, north and south sides; Bassett facades — businesses on Reed Stone Street; Bassett streetscape — entrance corridor to Reed Stone Street and Fairystone Park Highway; Bassett train depot improvements; Fieldale Town Green and Community Center (exterior improvements) and vendors market; Fieldale facades — central business district; Fieldale streetscape — central business district and entrance.
Phase 2 calls for: Bassett Streetscape — downtown on Fairystone Park Highway; Bassett business facade improvements — Fairystone Park Highway; and Fieldale Community Center — feasibility study and programming.
Phase 3 calls for: Bassett trail links, Bassett music and event venue, Fieldale trail links, Fieldale Community Center interior improvements and Fieldale splash park.
Phase 4 calls for: Stanleytown streetscape, gateway/wayfinding and interpretive signs; and Koehler wayfinding signs and interpretive sign.
The CDBG grant would be used to pay for part of the Phase I projects and to leverage other funds, officials said.
The preliminary cost estimates for the $12.9 million revitalization improvements are: $7.6 million for Bassett, $4.9 million for Fieldale, $300,000 for Stanleytown and $15,000 for Koehler.
Officials said an economic assessment was done, and a community brand statement and advertising and marketing plans developed.
After David Hill and Evie Slone of Hill Studio, a consulting firm, presented the master plan, several people in the audience made comments.
Merlin Winckler of Collinsville, who said he owns land on the Smith River and owns a guide service, said the water level of the Smith River is affected by the dam, which could affect canoeists and kayakers. He also said research he has done shows that “people don’t pay money to do things in their own backyard” but will pay to do those things if they travel hundreds of miles away.
However, he said, “Everything I see here is great. There are a lot of resources here.”
Marvin Carter, president of Command Event Systems LLC, asked why Koehler is only proposed to get $15,000 of improvements and talked about people who have made some investments in that area.
Matt Davis of Bassett said, “I like the ideas. The area needs a facelift. I look forward to seeing it happen.”
John Pegram of Bassett asked who would pay to maintain the town square and maintain the street lights.
Lee Clark, Henry County director of planning, zoning and inspections, said nothing will be done that can’t be maintained, and that if funding is not available to pay the power bill for the lights, they will be banner poles instead of light poles.
Andrew Kahle of the Fieldale area expressed support for the proposal but said the Fieldale Community Center desperately needs money for operations. “If we don’t have funding, there may not be a community center to put a splash park in,” he said.
Clark said the CDBG funds can’t be used for operating money.
Priscilla Palumbo, owner of the Virginia Home Inn in Fieldale, asked about the possibility of developing a historic landmark trail.
Walter Hairston of Bassett praised the plans and wants to make sure there will be places for people to bike and run. Some of the trails are or could be multi-use, officials responded.
The Henry County Board of Supervisors must hold a public hearing before the county submits the application for the CDBG grant. The application is due March 25.
Supervisor Tommy Slaughter said in an interview, “I’m really excited about all of it. It’s well overdue.”
The public hearing was at Bassett High School.
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