At Thursday’s Town Council Meeting, Councilman Frank Wendell, during the council comment period, asked about what many consider a prohibitively high hookup fee associated with the proposed Brew Pub on Peach Street, “We’re talking about sidewalks and utility poles and aesthetics. There has been a lot of speculation with the Brew Pub, and a large prohibitive hookup fee, and water bill of $42,000, and everybody asks me, and I don’t know if that is real or not. Is that a real figure?”
Town Manager Brent Manuel, “It is my understanding that is the actual figure; the connection fee was calculated and it was in excess of $42,000. That is the fee based on our current connection fee structure. One of the elements of the tourism ordinance is that it does have a rebate for some portion of the hookup fee, but, of course that ordinance is still in draft form”.
Wendell, “So, has that been communicated to them?”
Manuel, “Yes it has.”
Wendell, “I would hope the town would look at all the available avenues to help mitigate that, so that they can move forward. We just heard the presentation on tourism and how towns need something that will make them unique, and brew pubs are a trend that is occurring in many downtown areas throughout the commonwealth, that are spurring a lot of economic development. To have that proposed in our business district is something that I hope the council will open a line of dialog with the Smith’s and try to have that figure reduced. Recent history, we reduced utility charges up to 75% locate an apartment complex in town, it seems we could use some of this kind of energy for this project to go forward as well.”
Manuel, “There is a provision in our ordinance that allows for payment plans, that is one scenario we could use…”
Wendell, “The old school project, the town passed a special ordinance to make what they wanted to happen….I just think we can find a way to be more business friendly and have that move forward.”
Councilwoman Natali, “Can I just ask Jeb (Brady) about this specific rumor? Jeb did in fact quote based on their information a cost of $42,000 to connect water and sewer to that building, and it is being treated as a restaurant, and it will be a restaurant, and it is calculated on 64 patrons in the dining area, not including the workforce, so we are talking about a 64-person restaurant; just for your information. I also understand that they were told that they could ask the town to pay over time. I believe they were also told they could undertake a historic renovation and then get tax credits that would reduce that cost…”
Manuel, “The overall cost.”
Natali, “Yes, the overall cost, well, could reduce that cost to somewhere under twenty. So they have all that information, so they are actually the ones that requested the FOIA information on some of the information that the town was using for planning, and what the site costs. And they are reviewing their options. I don’t believe they have come back to us. I am just stating the facts as I know them.”
Manuel, “I reached out to see what it would cost to do a connection fee study, because I have been hearing some of the same things you have Frank, and that is in the $10,000 range. Not saying we should go in that direction, but sometimes it’s good to have an independent eye have a look at it. $42, 000 seems high, just from my experience in local government. One way you can guarantee that you will never have to increase the capacity is to have charges so high that no one will come. I don’t think that is what we want to do. I think we want to provide for a competitive rate, that people will be able to see as fair and we are not putting an extra burden on our existing citizens because new people are not paying their fair share building into the cost of the expansion of the waste water plant. Off hand, it does seem like a very high number for a restaurant of that size.”
Opinion: One has wonder if the brew pub were initiated by Hungry Crab, Dickie Foster, or J. David McCormack or: fill in developer of your choice, that the fees would have been reduced or completely wiped out by now. On February 12, 2012, Town Council adopted Ordinance 20120209 authorizing not only the sale of the historic high school for $10, but also reducing water and sewer connection charges by 50%. McCormack’s old school project rates were, with other incentives, reduced by 75%, and the project was able to use Town water for free while the historic structure was being carved up like a piece of cheese.
When the Bay Creek ‘Fitness’ club was hit with hookup fees, the town buckled and reduced them. The fees were originally $153,000 but were dropped to $44,000. In what should be termed News of the Weird, the Town used the “high school with showers” formula, which recalculated the connection charge at $44,166. In comparison, a single-family house connection charge is $12,350, so the Beach Club connection charge wound up being equivalent to 3.5 single-family houses.
Of course, Bayshore has never been forced to hookup to the town system, despite massive tax breaks from Cape Charles. At the Shanty, hookup charges were waived completely.
Sources have told the Cape Charles Mirror that there has been pushback against the idea of this kind of establishment being built on Peach Street, and that Phase III plans for the Community Trail may be in play here; a restaurant at this location would certainly bring into question the need for creating a ‘boulevard’ when more commercial parking would be the fundamental requirement.
If anything, this shines a light on the questionable motivations of the Town. Wendell was correct to point out that, after the tourism presentation just given by Kerry Allison, as well as the Main Street USA project, both of which focus on promoting the uniqueness of place, not moving hard and fast on making the brew pub happen seems questionable at best. It would seem that a brew pub would be just the kind of attraction a tourist destination would want to promote, so why would the Town be so willing to hammer the Smith’s with a charge that even the Town Manager feels is inappropriate? In the past, the Town has always done just what it wanted, when it wanted. What’s different now?