When planning a party at someone else’s house, it’s a good idea to let that person know, to let them choose the food or music, maybe invite some of their friends. Years ago when Orange County designated the Route 3 corridor as the county’s economic growth center, that was largely the beginning and end of the plan. Now, perhaps due to a recovering economy or the world’s largest retailer setting up shop or maybe a more ambitious agenda, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is taking steps to make the eastern end the growth leader it was envisioned to be. Following a joint meeting two months ago between the board, the planning commission and the economic development authority, the Route 3 discussion is going to perhaps where it matters most—Route 3—with a pair of public comment sessions July 27 at Lake of the Woods.
The public comment sessions, one with the homeowner’s associations of Lake of the Woods, Somerset Farm and Wilderness Shores and another with Route 3 business owners, should serve as an invitation to the planning process for these groups, said District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame.
“There’s not a single plan we’re ready to start implementing,” said Frame. “With all the rumors flying around, we want to get out in front of that, as well as provide information on what might be achieved…We want to make it very clear that there isn’t a plan being forced down [citizens’] throats. Not only at the meeting but after the fallout from the meeting, we want feedback from citizens on what they think they might want for the area.”
District 2 Supervisor Jim White said the meetings will work very similarly to the joint meeting the various county bodies had in May, with him delivering a presentation of statistics depicting Orange County’s economic state, followed by comments on possible solutions.
“We’re early in the process,” said White. “At this point we’re just trying to inform people and encourage them to get involved.”
For all its time as the designated growth area of the county, Route 3 is still largely a blank slate. There are likely as many ideals for the corridor as there are citizens in Orange County, but White said the solution would come in three tiers, with jobs at the top.
“If I could wave a magic wand, my first tier priority would be businesses that create additional jobs at all levels,” said White. “Communities are made up of all levels of jobs, from fairly high-skilled, high paying jobs to part-time work for students after school. Jobs would be the primary metric in terms of preferences.”
The other two tiers, said White, would give citizens options to spend their money in the county instead of contributing to the millions of dollars of “leakage” each year and support services.
But specifically what businesses might come to Route 3 is presently a mystery, and Orange County isn’t in the business of mysteries, only planning for them, said White.
“Until we get the planning done, any decision will be difficult because we don’t have a blueprint in place,” said White. “The county is not going to create jobs or build anything, but we can create a situation viable for the community to do it.”
Last week, Frame and White found themselves on opposites sides of a vote granting a mixed-use rezoning for a Route 3 development—Frame preferring to finish a master plan for the area before supporting this specific project and White seeing no fair way for Orange County to deny the application, having approved the Walmart project right next door. Only the future will tell what impact Signature Station, with room for two big boxes and 230 townhomes, will have on the overall Route 3 plan, but the decision illustrates some of the difficulties with long-range planning. Does the county press the pause button while figuring out how to get where it wants to go or does it run the risk of a corridor of strip malls where dreams of mixed-use and diversity once stood?
“Signature Station probably doesn’t alter the plan, but what if two or three landowners come in and may not bother with the master plan and now the county is overcome with specific rezonings,” said Frame. “The problem with ‘the market will determine what we need’ is the market determined how we got Central Park. I think we can do better planning than that.”
White said he hoped citizens would use the comment periods to suggest the kind of uses they would like to see and the kinds of businesses they would support, as well as aesthetic hopes for the development of the corridor.
The HOA comment period will be held at 5 p.m. June 27 at the Lake of the Woods Clubhouse, followed by the meeting with Route 3 businesses at 7 p.m. in the same location.