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Angry Riverdale Merchants Challenge Comp Plan

Final VDOT approval of the transportation portion of the Comprehensive Plan 2030 for South Boston is not anticipated until early 2010, so town planners did not take official action on a recommendation for town council at Monday’s public hearing which drew a standing room only crowd of over 50 people.

That didn’t prevent a large number of people from expressing their anger, misgivings and disappointment over the long-term concept of the plan.

The long-term vision for the 501 corridor in Riverdale, according to the Comprehensive Plan, indicates open spaces and protected areas within the flood plain.

“This vision may take decades to implement and can be accomplished as property owners willingly place their property of the market as the natural life cycles of their businesses determine,” the plan states.

“The Town [South Boston] should establish a fund and solicit grant funding to purchase these properties as they come on the market, gradually clearing them for environmental restoration and conversion to land use that is more appropriate for floodplains.”

Planners and town officials all through the Comprehensive Plan process have emphasized that Riverdale merchants would not be forced to relocate their businesses, but 11 speakers, all opposed to the long-range concept included in the plan, continue to disagree.

Riverdale business owner Bunny Propst, who has attended almost all of the planning commission and council meetings since the comprehensive plan process began, again expressed her frustration over the long-term concepts in the plan.

“Honest to God, I don’t know what else I can say to any of you other than what I’ve already said,” said Propst.

“I’ve been involved with this procedure since workshop two and I’ve yet to see any thing any business person has suggested find its way into the plan, not even a street light.

“All we want you to do is take outthe long-term plan that you and council and people who should know keep telling me will never happen and quit worrying about it.  Throw it away and adopt the short-term plan you already have drawn up by Hill Studio and implement that.

“We can live with that, but I don’t see any reason in the world why you would take and strip a business property that produces income for the town, real estate taxes, sales taxes, business license taxes, meals taxes, everything else that we pay taxes on, and just demolish that because you think it’s ugly.

“I can’t see why in a civilization with intelligent people we can’t come up with a way to make this area pretty enough so we don’t run businesses and industry away.

“I’ve heard all the arguments,  and there’s got to be a way,” she concluded.

“We don’t ask for help or expect help, just let us be law abiding citizens.”

Mac Ragans, a Riverdale business owner for over 45 years, said it was “ridiculous for he and others in Riverdale to go through what they’re going through now.”

“We were talking about economic development, but where is all this money coming from,” he asked.

“We need to do something to get jobs in South Boston and Halifax County…we had them and lost them.
“As far as the gateway,  you can look at it as you see fit…myself and others have tried to take care of our property,  and the town seems to have come in and told us what to do but has done nothing to help us.

“They want to push us out,” said Ragans, who noted he has lived with floods and their associated risks for as long as he’s been in Riverdale.

“Leave Riverdale alone,” he said.  You didn’t want it before and didn’t want it when you got it.

“If you don’t want me put me back in the county and leave me alone.”

Ray Conner reiterated that he “has a problem with what politicians say and what they do.”

“I feel you are trying to put us out of business and although you say not, I don’t believe it.

“I would like to keep running my business where it’s at, and I’ve made improvements…I think South Boston doesn’t even cut the grass in Riverdale,  and as far as wetlands, it’s already a wetland,  and you don’t’ have to spend a cent on it.

“I think you should leave the business people alone so we can spend time running our businesses and not come down here to tell you our feelings, although I feel it means nothing to y’all.”

Mark Stevens, a Riverdale property owner, expressed disappointment that some of his suggestions were not implemented.

“We met with Hill Studio for about two hours in Ted Daniel’s office and made about 12 suggestions to improve the visibility when you drive through Riverdale,” recalled Stevens.

“I’m not seeing any of that here tonight,  and I feel like my two hours was wasted…I’d like to have something in writing, because when your term is up, and you’re replaced, the issue will come up again,” he reminded planners.
“We need to have something in hand to show them.”

Ed Talbott said something he can’t understand is why the town would take 27 businesses that employ 125 people and wipe them out.

“It doesn’t really make any sense.  This is a lot of people who will be relocated to form a wetland we already have,” Talbott told planners.

Former business owner Dorothy Daniel told planners to look beyond the “pretty pictures” contained in the plan.

“I really beg you to be very critical and not cruel, to look at them beyond surface illusion, because we cannot afford to be railroaded, because we’ve had enough broken promises,” she said.

“The government has proven throughout the centuries it isn’t the best custodian, so I have a thing with this vision.

“I really hope you put illusion aside, look at it critically and use the common sense all your constituents have already entrusted you with…use your whole brain.”

Joe Gasperini said he was against the comprehensive plan and didn’t think it should be implemented.

“From the very beginning, there weren’t enough people involved in making the decisions of how to go about making the recommendations,” he said.

People for a long time have said they’re against the plan and have been making recommendations, coming to meetings, writing letters, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good.

“I think the community needs to listen to their constituents and what people here want.

“You have 27 businesses and 125 employees, and one of the things this county needs is to keep the jobs it has, why get rid of them,” he continued.

“We keep making decisions based on the promise of jobs and everything is based on how it will help economic development rather than how they will help citizens now and in the future.

“It seems to me that if you make things based on what people want and make it attractive for people to move here, people would come.”

“I’m one of the younger guys in Riverdale,” commented Clark Daniel.

“I bought my property five years ago, and one thing I’d like to know is how much tax money will it take to make all these dreams come true.

“Riverdale is one area that needs improving but think we can do it without taking us out of the picture,” Daniel continued.

“If North Main Street is good enough for all these improvements, parks, streetlights and crosswalks, Riverdale is also.”

Developer and Riverdale property owner John Cannon said he was very much in favor of the short-range plan for Riverdale, but not the long-range plan, with “the reason being the long-range comp plan would have far reaching implications placed against the property owners with the Town of South Boston being the judge and jury and dictating the property values.”

Cannon noted that he had an issue with the town after filing a soil erosion plan for a project on property he owned in Riverdale.

“Without even calling me, the Town of South Boston decided they would flex their muscle and came over and shut the project down, telling me I had a permanent retaining wall,” said Cannon.

“I don’t want to experience this kind of stuff in the future.  It’s bad behavior, and I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to the property owners,” added Cannon.

”You can’t let the Town of South Boston be that person, it has to be a committee.

“I believe we can have a committee of property owners and members of town council get together and implement a plan for short-term strategies,” explained Cannon, who suggested if the town extended sidewalks and its lighting scheme to U.S. 58 it would beautify the area and send a message to property owners.

“I suggest you take the property taxes and put them in a fund with low interest loan so property owners in Riverdale can draw down and fix façades of their buildings,” Cannon said.

South Boston business owner David Myers commented that Riverdale directly affects his business, saying that 15-20 percent of his business comes from the Roxboro, Oxford and North Carolina area.

These people, according to tax laws, have to pay Virginia tax if they buy something that’s installed by my company in Virginia, and North Carolina tax if they buy something bought and installed in North Carolina.

“I have yet to hear any comment about the condition of Riverdale, and we’ve been here since 1958.

“I would like for people to understand Riverdale has a history, a huge history, and it was part of what made South Boston what it was.

“One of the more intelligent things in the plan was the comment about two-way traffic in South Boston,” continued Myers.

“That’s what killed downtown South Boston.”

Planning Commission Chairman George Leonard emphasized that it was not the comprehensive plan’s objective to drive people out of Riverdale.

“Unfortunately, I think that’s the way some people still feel.

“What we’re basically saying is that business owners can stay there as long as they want to.

“If, at a later date, if the business owners want to sell, and if the town has the money, it would entertain the prospect of buying the property, very similar to what “Mr. [John] Cannon has done with the old warehouse.

“If for instance the owner wants to sell, and if someone offers “X” amount of dollars, and the town says that’s more than what we can afford to pay, then the property owner sells to someone else.”

Daniel commended Hill Studio for their professionalism in drawing up the plan, a process that began in 2008 and included three public workshops, and a large amount of information gathering and mapping work.

“South Boston could have taken a traditional approach to the plan and written a bunch of words no one would have read,” said Daniel.

“The Dan River was here before any of those buildings were in Riverdale and will be there long after the buildings are long gone.

“When you look 20 years into the future, you can’t do it without looking 20 years in the past.  The Dan River continues to come out of its banks, and through a flood channel continues to put water into buildings.

“It’s a floodway and will continue to be a floodway, and that floodway is covered by a flood insurance program that restricts what you can do.

“A 20-year look at the future in the plan says the river will continue to flood, the town will continue to participate in the flood insurance program, so the people who do live in Riverdale and Halifax County who do live in flood prone areas can get flood insurance,” continued Daniel.

The only way we can participate in the program and provide those services is to enforce those ordinances.”

“Mr. Cannon thought he had all the permits and never consulted the town,” continued Daniel.

“We didn’t force him to shut down. We told his contractor to shut down because he didn’t have the proper permits…that’s not bullying by the town, but enforcing the ordinances.”