CLIFTON FORGE — Clifton Forge is in negotiations to sell the remaining acreage in its business park to the Rockbridge Farmers Regional Cooperative. The Lexington-based co-op plans to establish a propane facility in the town that will serve customers in the Highlands.
Even though talks are in the early stages, town council held a public hearing on the proposed land sale Tuesday night. As a compromise, the Rockbridge Farmers Cooperative has agreed to allow the town to preserve wetlands that are located at the back portion of the property.
Under the proposal, the town would establish a 2.4-acre green space around the wetlands. That idea drew widespread support from citizens who spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing.
“The wetlands would be an attraction for tourists and residents of the Highlands,” said Mike Hayslett of Alleghany Street.
Hayslett said the town could use the wetlands and green space as a destination garden.
“There are many of us who totally support this effort,” said Gayle Hillert, a former vice mayor.
Town Manager Chuck Unroe said the property in the business park has been listed for sale for about 10 years.
He said the Rockbridge Farmers Cooperative has approximately $200,000 in annual propane sales to customers in the Highlands. A facility in Clifton Forge would allow the company to more efficiently serve its customers in the Highlands while possibly generating additional business in areas of Bath County.
“The higher their sales, the more income the town would make,” Unroe said.
The Rockbridge Farmers Cooperative would initially pay Clifton Forge $38.50 for a business license. In the following years, the business license fee would be based on 23 cents per every $100 of revenue the co-op generates from the propane facility.
“This sounds like a good investment rather than let [the property] set there another 10 years,” said Councilman Ronald Goings.
Council authorized Unroe to continue negotiations with the co-op. Once a firm sales proposal is reached, another public hearing will be held. A purchase price has not been discussed.
“I think we should sell it, but at the same time, we should preserve the wetlands,” said Councilman Shorty Wolfe.
Recycling was another topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting as council approved a regional agreement with Alleghany County and Covington.
Under the agreement, county residents will be permitted to take recyclable items to drop-off locations in Clifton Forge and Covington. The localities will share the costs.
Based on population, Alleghany County will cover the largest share of the service, paying $25,750 annually. Covington’s share will be $14,350 and Clifton Forge’s, $8,900. Iron Gate is also part of the agreement. The town will pay $800 manually.
Clifton Forge was paying approximately $30,000 a year to provide the service to its residents.
The town’s recycling drop-off point is located in Matthews Park near Hardee’s. Unroe said the town has ordered a compactor for the site.
And while the town’s recycling costs are declining, Unroe said an influx of state and federal money will help Clifton Forge make needed infrastructure improvements.
The town manager said Clifton Forge will be awarded $1.4 million for paving under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale grading system.
The paving will likely begin next spring and cover an area from Ridgeway’s intersection with Roxbury Street to the town limits near Dabney S. Lancaster Community College.
Also, council approved a measure that will appropriate $1.8 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding into town accounts. Unroe said the town will access the money as it identifies infrastructure needs.
The town is scheduled to receive another $1.8 million in 2022.
Unroe said additional ARPA money totaling approximately $2.8 million will be designated for water line repairs and improvements. The town was recently notified of that funding by the Virginia Department of Health’s Office on Drinking Water.
“We’ve got a lot of money coming. A lot of stuff can be fixed in Clifton Forge,” Wolfe said.
In other business Tuesday, council:
— Appointed Diana Kling Smith to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
— Approved a conditional-use permit to allow a small bed and breakfast cottage to be operated at 404 Alleghany St. The property is located across the street from Nicely Funeral Home.
— Granted a tax exemption to Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation property. The property is an annex next to the Historic Masonic Theatre, as well as land surrounding the Masonic Amphitheatre. Real estate taxes generated from the property totaled $1,378.
— Established personal property tax relief at 55 percent for vehicles valued from $1,001 to $20,000.
— Designated Clifton Forge as the official home of the Virginia Opry.