Buchanan supports grant for outdoor tourism training



Buchanan Town Council is sending two proposed changes to the town code to public hearing that are designed to improve the town’s enforcement capabilities with dealing with junk cars and trash, litter and refuse.

Council also agreed unanimously to support a grant application that, if approved, will allow the Regional Small Business Development Center (RSBDC) in Roanoke to develop a Town of Buchanan Outdoor Recreation Tourism Institute.

That institute would provide assistance with a market study for outdoor-related businesses and training for existing businesses in attracting outdoor recreation customers, Town Manager Mary Zirkle told council.

The RSBDC has already held workshops and is working with some businesses in town on a monthly basis.

Council approved a letter of support for what is expected to be a $35,000 grant.

Zirkle said the town qualifies for the grant because of the loss of jobs— most recently those at Virginia Forge Co., which is gradually shutting down its plant in town.

“As documented in the application, the Town of Buchanan economy was dependent upon manufacturing and textile production plants. Over the years, the plants have closed resulting in hundreds of jobs lost,” the letter of support says.

“Most recently, Virginia Forge closed their doors resulting in the loss of 120 jobs. Though there have been much larger loss of job events in the region, Buchanan only has a population of 1,200 residents. The loss of 120 jobs represents 10 percent of the total population and adversely affected the stability and versatility of the remaining small businesses resulting in a disproportionate adverse economic impact,” the letter continues.

The letter of support notes that “the area is rich in outdoor recreation tourism assets, including the James River, the Blue Ridge Parkway (4 miles from town), the Appalachian Trail (4 miles from town), and the Transamerica Bike Route 76 (Route 11 through town). “Combined, these assets draw approximately 50,000 visitors to the town and even more within only a few miles of downtown.

“Funding received under the Portable Assistance Grant will be used to provide education and training from subject matter experts in the fields of business, tourism, recreational asset management and marketing,” the letter says.

“Small businesses owners, entrepreneurs, and government officials will learn how best to position themselves and the Town of Buchanan as an exciting recreational destination leading to an increase in jobs, revenues, and stability as a result of the substantial growth in outdoor tourism.”

“This is just one of the many things we’re trying to do to help this segment of the town,” Zirkle told council.

In a related business development matter, Zirkle told council she gave a tour of the town to 11 of the participants in the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition that’s managed by The Advancement Foundation (TAF). Some of the participants in the competition are looking for places to locate businesses they are trying to develop or expand.

Zirkle said she met individually with two of those businesses that have expressed an interest in Buchanan.

She also told council the town has joined with the property owner to advertise the Groendyk building as the possible site for a mirco-brewery. The ad will run in a brewers’ magazine for six months.

Zirkle said the town is also working with Virginia Tech on businesses such as attracting a grocery store and a brewery.

Ordinance Changes

Town Council agreed to hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the town zoning ordinance that will make it easier for the town to deal with junk cars on private property.

The recommendations that came from the town Planning Commission followed regular public complaints during council meetings about junk vehicles and other trash, and the negative impact on the town.

The Planning Commission recommendations will use the Code of Virginia to provide the town with the “authority to restrict keeping of inoperable vehicles,” and give the town the “teeth” to enforce the regulations.

A second ordinance change will clarify the town code that deals with “Trash as Litter and Refuse,” again giving the town the legal ability to enforce the ordinance.

Other Business

In other business, council:

• Agreed to have an “outside person” talk with town office staff about alleged incidents that a town resident said in a letter he witnessed when Mayor Larry Hall was essentially rude to the office employees. Vice-Mayor James Manspile read the letter and said the writer could not be at the meeting because of work. Manspile said he’s seen the same. Councilmember Mike Burton said he’d never seen Hall not treat people with respect, and said the letter was slanderous and letters like that didn’t allow an individual to defend himself. Council took up the matter in executive session as a personnel matter because of the employees involved and announced its decision to have an independent investigation. Zirkle volunteered during the discussion that she had always been treated professionally by the mayor.

• Agreed to include a 2 percent pay raise for the seven town employees in the FY18 budget, and agreed to include $1,000 to clean up around the gauge dock, $5,000 for improvements to the Town Park playground, $5,000 for sidewalk work, and funds for sewer line problems as additions to the budget that will go to public hearing in May.

• Agreed to allow Buchanan Elementary School to install and service a “Little Library” at the Town Park. School Librarian Sarah Boblett made the request.

• Learned that a group of travel writers will be at the Civil War History Weekend that could provide exposure for the town in nationwide magazines.

• Voted 3-2 to not replace the window covers for the food stands on the Carnival Grounds.

• Approved a $200 donation to the James River High School After Prom Party.

— Ed McCoy

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