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Economic development group writing plan to improve business climate

Monday, November 1, 2004

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer

VERNON – The town’s Economic Development Commission has begun working on a plan to improve the business climate.

Using a town market study as a guide, members of the commission spent time at their Tuesday meeting discussing steps for creating the plan, which officials hope will steer the town’s economic development strategy over the next three to five years.

In addition to developing the plan, the commission has also been asked to look at the town’s nonresidential land inventory and come to a consensus on the economic and tax base benefits of residential and non-residential development, said Neil S. Pade, the town’s economic development coordinator.

Citing a recurring problem in the town’s planning review boards, Pade said developers often argue that their projects will have a positive impact on the local tax base. But residential and nonresidential projects can have differing effects on local infrastructure and schools and, often times, the boards don’t have the information necessary to determine if those assertions are true, Pade said.

“Quite frankly, we don’t always know”, Pade said. “What we want to do is create a balance for the town.”

Boosting nonresidential development in the town was one of five projects the EDC suggested when it wrote to Mayor Ellen L. Marner in November asking for more direction. The EDC is advisory to the mayor. Commission Chairman Jeffrey Cohen said he hopes the new strategic plan would also be used by the Rockville Downtown Association and the town’s Neighborhood Revitalization Zone.

“We have all these great studies and great ideas and we are trying to put something together so it all makes sense,” Cohen said. Cohen said he asked commissioners to have potential ideas ready for discussion at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 6.

Depending on how in-depth Marmer wants the commission to go, Cohen said, the process of developing the plan could take between two months and one year.

“It’s probably our highest priority item right now”, Cohen said. “I think we all want what is best for the town. We need to develop a cohesive plan on how to get there. Cohen reiterated ongoing concerns about the declining availability of land zoned for non-residential uses.

Last month, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted to change the zoning of a 17.51-acre tract of land on Keynote Drive from special economic development to planned residential development. The move brought the town’s inventory of non-residential zoned land below 200 acres. The commission will also explore the possibility of “infilling” which tries to increase the viability of properties that have been already developed.

“It’s a distinct possibility,” Cohen said of infilling. “You have to be careful so you don’t completely destroy the character of what you are infilling.”

As nonresidential land becomes scarcer, it could mean more opportunities for redeveloping properties downtown, said Luise S. Craig, executive director of the Rockville Downtown Association.

“We have some space in downtown that really is not being used as efficiently as it could be,” Craig said, noting that many downtowns have revitalized themselves with vintage building designs that incorporate both commercial and residential uses.

As for the strategic plan, Craig said it is important for the town to develop a method for implementing the findings of the market study, which was completed last winger.

“When you have a report done, it gives you a lot of information,” Craig said. “It’s only valuable if you create an implementation plan. Otherwise a study is only something that gives a shelf something to do.

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