From time to time in the life of every town there are some challenging questions that do not necessarily have cut-and-dried answers. Hurt is facing a couple of those, one of which appears likely to be dealt with over the next week while the other looks to take at least a few months.
By their very nature each will involve differing points of view and strong feelings, but at the end of the day we must decide what is ultimately in the best interest of our town as a whole and then go from there.
The first question is a matter of zoning/land use. McCormick’s Storage Facility LLC has applied for a special use permit (SUP) to operate a video gaming parlor for games of skill at 419 Church Street, known locally as the former Bea’s Restaurant building.
Skill-gaming has become very popular in Virginia, so much so that questions over how to define and regulate it are being considered by the General Assembly during the current legislative session. For those who may still be unfamiliar, these games skirt the state laws now in place that define what constitutes illegal gambling in our Commonwealth. This happens because technically they are games of skill rather than games of chance.
House Bill 881, which passed the House of Delegates earlier this month and is now being considered by the State Senate, would in most situations place these skill games under the illegal gambling classification. It remains to be seen what action the Senate will take, and whether the Governor will sign the bill if it is passed.
The more immediate and local concern for Hurt is whether or not this is the type of business that would be a good fit for our small-town community. While we all agree that business growth is a critical need for Hurt, where we differ is largely a matter of how selective we should be in what type(s) of businesses are permitted in our town.
On one hand, there are arguments that the proposed game room could be operated successfully with minimal complications, that it would be another step (albeit small) toward building our business community, and that it would add a few jobs plus a yet-indeterminable amount of revenue for the town.
In contrast, there are valid counterarguments that any establishment of this type would stand in stark contrast to our community culture (which is family-values oriented), that it may discourage more sought-after types of businesses, and that it could have the effect (even if unintentional) of drawing negative influences into the area.
Hurt Town Council and Planning Commission plan to hold a called meeting in joint session this Thursday evening (Feb. 27) at 7:00 PM in Council Chambers, primarily for the purpose of conducting a public hearing to receive feedback from town citizens and business representatives. Those interested in submitting comments and/or hearing what others have to say about the matter are welcome to attend. The official agenda with details and protocols for public hearings have been posted at town hall and also on the town website at: townofhurtva.gov
After hearing public input, the Planning Commission will consider the proposal and make a recommendation to Town Council, with the final decision then resting with Council. There are a few possible outcomes: (1) approve the request as presented; (2) approve it with certain conditions/modifications; (3) deny the request altogether; and (4) table or postpone any decisions until a later date pending further information and review.
Given the uncertainty of what may come from Richmond over the next few months, and in view of the potential weightiness of this decision for our local community, it is my personal view that if we hasten to approve this SUP right now, we would be venturing too far ahead of ourselves and rushing into something that might well prove a moot point come July. It is my understanding that Pittsylvania County as delayed action on this gaming question until summer, after the state’s decisions are known. I am only one voice, but I stand by my belief that the county did the right thing by taking its time. While I comprehend both sides of the issue, my conscience is my guide and it tells me that in looking for business growth here in Hurt, we can do better than gaming parlors.
The second and even more heavyweight decision before us is that of a $5 million capital project, specifically to provide municipal wastewater utility service to a portion of town where numerous septic systems have been dysfunctional for years.
Peed & Bortz, an engineering and consulting firm from Christiansburg that has done quality work for Hurt and Altavista in years past, presented on Feb. 18 with results and recommendations following a recent an engineering study of Hurt’s present and future water and wastewater needs.
The recommendation was to expand our municipal wastewater system, which currently only serves the Main Street area, to include the section of Hurt that lies west of Prospect Road between Hurt Elementary School and the Cemetery Road intersection, then along the south side of School Road to the Lynn Street intersection, thence including all of Lynn, High, Oak, Grove, and Spring Streets, along with Ramsey and W. Spencer Roads.
Under the proposal, only residents of that section of town would be affected by the project, and those in the remaining portions of the town would not have wastewater bills to pay when it is completed. Most of the project, if approved, would be paid for by Virginia Rural Development grant funds and long-term loans taken out by the town.
Obviously, it will take a period of months to reach a decision as to any potential pursuit of this project. Before Hurt moves forward, Council would hold public hearings to receive citizen and business feedback prior to any major decision.
For the time being, I respectfully ask everyone to think about and weigh the benefits of municipal sewerage – enhanced property values and never having to worry about failing septic systems again. I would also ask a few who seem to have gone into “panic mode” over this issue to please be aware that we are only in a preliminary discussion stage at this time. Nothing is set in stone, and there is much more research to do before any ultimate determination is made.
We all have ample work to do, so I urge us to come together as a community and collaborate in the ongoing efforts to move our town forward.
(Gary Poindexter is the mayor of Hurt. His email address is email@example.com.)