Council to consider 3-cent real estate tax increase. Plus, could North Main get a new retail development?

A rendering of the planned development at the corner of Mt. Clinton Pike and North Main Street shows the layout of a proposed gas station and convenience store, as well as future retail.

By Ryan Alessi, publisher

The Harrisonburg City Council will consider raising real estate taxes for the second straight year to help cover the cost of the new high school. 

The proposed first draft of the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, includes a 3-cent increase to 93 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That would work out to be about a $60 increase in the tax bill on a property assessed at $200,000. 

The spending plan, which interim City Manager Ande Banks outlined to the council Tuesday, details $335 million in spending — a $40 million increase over this year’s city budget. Of that, $145 million covers the general city government operations. That includes $31 million for the city police and fire departments, which would be about a 12% increase over this year.  

But those figures are far from final. The city council will have a public hearing April 26 and debate the budget during the May council meetings so it can meet its May 30 deadline. The draft proposal is available on the city’s website

Also complicating the process is the budget stalemate in the General Assembly. The Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate must agree on a state budget that will determine how much funding comes to the Harrisonburg City Public Schools. The city’s initial draft plans for the schools to receive $107 million of the city’s $335 million total. 

In addition, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called for eliminating Virginia’s taxes on groceries. Local governments receive a share of that. And it would cost Harrisonburg $2 million in revenue if the General Assembly approves that, Banks said. 

Other notable items in the budget proposal include: 

  • $6.3 million to build a new Public Works building. 
  • $1.9 million to cover raises for city employees, including first responders. 
  • $1.75 million to replace a ladder truck for the fire department.
  • $550,000 in increased funding for street paving and sidewalks. 
  • Converting about 45 part-time city positions, including school bus aides, into full time jobs with benefits to help attract and retain employees. 

New retail development on North Main?

A proposed retail and gas station plaza on the corner of North Main Street and Mount Clinton Pike sparked public debate over bike and pedestrian access, as well as the need for a convenience store in that end of town. But the council put off taking a vote on a zoning change that would allow its development until council member George Hirschmann, who is recovering from back surgery, could discuss it and cast his vote. 

The proposal, called Northside Gateway, would start with a gas station — as well as an electric vehicle charging station — and convenience store. Mt. Jackson-based Holtzman Oil Corp., which would build the gas station and convenience center, owns a dozen other stations in Harrisonburg. The development would add stores and restaurants on the four acre site if the council approves a zoning change. 

Discussion about the project highlighted two of the main themes that council members have frequently cited as their priorities: providing opportunities for amenities in the north end of town and encouraging alternative transportation methods. The Harris Gardens Apartments, for instance, are on the other side of Main Street from the proposed plaza. 

“I’m thinking about the families who are living on that end of town, and there’s not that much over there for them,” Mayor Deanna Reed said. “This would be an attractive development for them.” 

But city staff recommended the council deny the developers’ zoning change request unless the project would put the convenience store closer to the intersection than the gas pumps to make the store more accessible to people walking or biking from those nearby neighborhoods. 

Representatives for the developers told the council they planned sidewalks around and inside the development. But the Holtzman Co. wants the gas pumps closer to the road. 

“It’s not willing to hide its primary business use behind its secondary business use of the convenience store,” said Todd Rhea, a land-use attorney representing the developers. 

“Visibility is critical.”

Affordable housing debate to be continued … 

Another debate also ended with the council putting off decisions to allow a proposed apartment development off Chicago Avenue. 

Angel Rodriguez, who owns La Morena, purchased the 2.5-acre plot and plans to build an apartment complex of three-bedroom apartments aimed at families. 

While Rodriguez told the council Tuesday that the initial range for rents could be between $1,300-$1,600, he hadn’t yet set the rent price. The current plans call for 48 units split between a pair of three-story buildings. The council would have to approve a pair of provisions — one for rezoning the land and the other for a special-use permit to allow for more than 12 multi-family housing units in a building.

Council member Chris Jones said he wasn’t comfortable voting to essentially greenlight the project until he knew more about rent prices. He said he wants to see more housing stock in the price range for working people. 

Vice Mayor Sal Romero, who said he was ready to support the project on Tuesday, said even if Rodriguez couldn’t provide the exact rent, adding more housing will open up more opportunities for people to live in the city. 

Also in Tuesday’s meeting: 

  • The council approved the new election precinct maps which will be in place in time for the November general election. The new precinct lines will take effect July 1, which will be after the Republican primary in June. 

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