Although still essentially a concept, the city is advancing plans for the Nature’s Crossing Technology Center.

On Tuesday, Waynesboro City Council gave the OK for a conditional-use permit to allow a 178-foot water tower to be sited in the H-1 Heavy Industrial District at 1625 S. Delphine Ave. and 51 S. Oak Lane south of Interstate 64 heading toward Lyndhurst.

The permit for the tower, which previously received the support of the Planning Commission, was sought by the city even though there is no definitive timeline for the project, explained Planning Director Luke Juday.

“The tower is totally dependent on when the council decides to borrow that money,” Juday said, noting the city would issue bonds to pay for the project if it goes forward.

The idea, he said, is that having the permit approval now will streamline the process whenever council decides to fund the work.

Juday said the tower, which will hold 500,000 gallons, primarily would serve the tech center, although it may benefit residents and businesses in the area by adding water pressure to their lines.

Timmons Group Engineering, a Richmond-based firm with offices in Staunton and Charlottesville, was contracted to do the engineering for the tower from a $216,500 economic development grant the city received from the state in 2017.

If and when council decides to fund the tower, the engineering is generally complete although it may have to be updated, Juday said.

Nature’s Crossing is envisioned to be built on 177 acres of undeveloped land the city bought for $3.5 million in 2011.

Completely developing the center, including construction of the tower, extending water and sewer and upgrading other infrastructure, could cost as much as $21 million. Juday, however, said that cost may be closer to $12 million if the city decides against completely building out the site for potential manufacturers.

Although there had been some thought that some of the upgrades, particularly water and sewer, could be built over time, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“It’s difficult to phase in the work,” Juday said. “Infrastructure upgrades must be done all down the line” at once.

A detailed cost estimate of the water tower is expected soon, but Juday said that as with the other upgrades, it remains on the city’s “unfunded, unplanned” list.

A major piece to the tech center puzzle will be the completion of the 1.6-mile Southern Corridor, a mostly state-funded Virginia Department of Transportation project that will extend Shenandoah Village Drive along a path roughly paralleling I-64.

The corridor will link South Delphine Avenue with Nature’s Crossing and the existing retail development at I-64’s Exit 96. The two-lane highway also is expected to reduce congestion along the interstate as well as on Rosser Avenue.

The corridor’s total cost, including engineering, is expected to exceed $17.3 million, with work starting in late 2021. The state will pay 88% of the cost through its Smart Scale transportation program with the rest coming from local funds.

Juday said the corridor is expected to be finished in 2022 or 2023.

While Waynesboro, which has an unemployment rate hovering around 3%, isn’t “desperate” for new manufacturing jobs in the way some Rust Belt communities have been, economic conditions are always subject to change, Juday said. According to the city, nearly 16% of jobs in Waynesboro are still in the manufacturing sector compared to 8% nationally.

The city is looking to develop the tech center to take advantage of Waynesboro’s direct rail and interstate access as a way of attracting “a high-value, high-wage” high-tech companies, Juday said.

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