Counsel Discusses Downtown Redevelopment

Although it was not an agenda item, the Tappahannock Town Council heard views about the redevelopment of the downtown area near the conclusion of its September 11 business meeting.

A July 15, 2022 fire destroyed most of the 200 block of Prince Street.

Impacted businesses included Martin-Sale Furniture Company (retail sales and offices) and its warehouses as well as those within the Derieux Building (Prince Street Café, Tiffany Properties, and The Rivah Hair Studio) which was also home to George Jennings’ Office/ Art Studio. An apartment above that structure was also destroyed.

Eleven fire companies from seven counties responded with mutual aid as some 125 firefighters utilized 28 fire engines to combat the flames before bringing the conflagration under control after nearly three hours.

At last week’s Council meeting, Essex County Economic Development Vice Chairman William Croxton broached the subject of what to do with the properties that are owned by Cliff Ogg, Suzanne Derieux, Tommy Turner, and Michael Timothy Davis.

“I would like to ask if there is a formal redevelopment plan because it takes years to get that together with all the infrastructure issues,” Croxton said.

Moreover, he noted that about eight or nine months ago he held an informal meeting with the property owners as he had an interested developer express interest to him.

“We had a very positive meeting,” Croxton said. “There was cooperation that I underestimated. So, I think it’s time we start looking for grants. (Historic Downtown Tappahannock) needs to be looking for grants for this project. It’s going to take time…but if we don’t get started it ain’t going to happen.”

Croxton said those discussions included items such as store fronts, second story condominiums, and a parking garage.”

“(The discussion) was about whatever might fit in that area,” he told Council. “We could have a downtown population explosion and more people visiting the downtown area.”

Tappahannock Town Manager Eric Pollitt reported that Council’s direction has been for Historic Downtown Tappahannock (formerly Tappahannock Main Street) to guide the effort.

“You guys haven’t charged myself or (zoning administrator/community development director) Connie (Dalton) with heading up this project with all the other projects we have going on in town,” Pollitt told Council.

He did say he and Dalton have been made aware of some grant opportunities that would assist the four property owners.

“We haven’t contacted them and you guys haven’t asked us to do that,” Pollitt stated.

Rob Akers, who represents the Greater Tappahannock Election District on the Essex County Board of Supervisors, told Council the town has no design standards for development of that area.

“I would implore you to develop some design standards otherwise you won’t have a choice of what gets built if you leave it up to the owners’ discretion,” Akers remarked.

Dalton told Council that zoning and the Historic District Overlay are tools the town has regarding that area.

She also said the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has some grant opportunities that can be examined.

“I think it would be great to get our stakeholder property owners involved with this, if they are open to it,” she told Council.

Councilor Carolyn Barrett inquired about town officials having discussions with the property owners.

Pollitt said he has had multiple one-on-one conversations with Ogg.

“Our guidance has been this is private property,” Dalton said.

“Unless someone keeps us abreast of this, how are we supposed to know?” Barrett asked. “Obviously some of you all have been meeting with (Historic Downtown Tappahannock Director Beth Sharpe). Unless I read it in one of your reports, I don’t know what’s going on down there. When a citizen asks me I tell them go to the town office and ask them because we don’t know.”

Russell Carlton, the husband of Councilor Kay Brooks Carlton, told Council that he supports Croxton’s approach.

“Don’t go down there telling people what they need to do,” he said. “Don’t put it in the paper that this is a drawing for Prince Street. It’s not anybody in here’s property. If you keep telling them whatever, it’s going to be another year. Leave it on the friendly side. You have to realize four people own it and that they need to hurry up and do whatever.”

Councilor A. Fleet Dillard III, whose Ritchie House property sustained minimal damage during the blaze, suggested that grant opportunities be explored.

“I think there are some (development) standards that could be refreshed,” he stated. “The pitfalls often come when you start things without a plan. What’s the role of Town Council in redeveloping 80 percent of a block that burnt? I think the Town Council’s role is to work with Connie and her staff to see what and how and if changes could be made in zoning and design requirements. I don’t know what I as a Council member can do as far as that private property.”

Dillard said he has heard numerous ideas for the properties.

“It’s easy in theory and complicated in design,” he said.

Croxton said he desires for grants to be secured to address infrastructure issues to make the properties shovel ready.

“I’d rather see a developer, if these landowners agree, come in and do it privately,” Croxton remarked. “I’d just like to see something be done because those people just don’t know what to do next.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *