CouncilMeetingForAirbnbs (copy)

At a previous Harrisonburg City Council meeting, several short-term rentals were approved and one was denied. 

Harrisonburg City Council met Tuesday evening and approved the use of $153,000 to purchase a small plot of less than an acre for the new high school. This will be in addition to the $5 million purchase of the school’s planned 60-acre site. 

The inclusion of this real estate will give further access to the high school’s northern campus and will minimize the effects of traffic generated by the school on Main Street. 

Councilmember Richard Baugh shared his memory of fighting for the city to purchase the property during the years he served as a planning commissioner and expressed his eagerness for Harrisonburg to take ownership of the land for public use. Baugh referred to this vote as a chance to correct a “bad decision” made by city council years ago, when the land was considered for rezoning and purchasing but wasn’t bought by Harrisonburg. 

“I thought it was one of the worst decisions the city ever made,” Baugh said. “Now here we are, years later … this is our chance to sort it out.” 

Members also voted to consider approving two public works programs: an update on the Public Access Permit Program and a new Drainage Improvement Program proposed by Tom Hartman, director of Public Works. Both programs were met with enthusiastic approval from council members. 

The updated Public Access Permit Program is designed to allow the Public Works Department to enforce the collection of fees from contractors as part of the permit process, to ensure contractors are on schedule and following permit plans. It will instate a $100 non-refundable fee and begin to collect surety, a type of bond to act as insurance with contractors given permits by the department. The permit program was modeled after Virginia’s Department of Transportation guidelines. The new program was approved and will be in effect Nov. 4.

Hartman began to develop the proposed Drainage Improvement Program after a series of flash floods in May 2018. Harrisonburg has over 200 reported areas with drainage issues, and in 2018 there were 97 requests for the public works department to respond to drainage problems. With the program in place, Harrisonburg residents will be given the chance to directly apply to the public works department to respond to drainage issues on public and private property. 

“I think it absolutely addresses something that has always slipped through the cracks,” Baugh said.

Baugh hopes that the program will encourage neighbors to collaborate on the application to Public Works, and — as a community — identify the drainage issues in neighborhoods. Now that the proposal has been approved, applications will be considered by the public works department, and the city will work with each neighborhood to best solve and prevent drainage problems. 

Sal Romero, vice-mayor, thanked Hartman for his proposal and expressed confidence that the program will be used by residents because he had seen first-hand how residents responded to a previous community flooding discussion.

“They felt heard,” Romero said. “They were very pleased that the city took the time to come and listen to them.” 

There are similar programs in Washington, D.C., Minnesota and Washington State, but Harrisonburg is the first locality to start this type of collaborative program in Virginia. Hartman hopes that direct communication with neighbors will enhance the relationship between the department and community. 

“We’re really giving some opportunities to go out and help the citizens,” Hartman said. “And by getting them at the table, involved in it — that’s how we get things done — by getting community members engaged with us to push these things forward. We want them involved from the beginning.” 

Other topics included the approval of renaming a portion of Hillcrest Drive to Carrera Lane after a new residential property was built in what would be the 1300 block of Hillcrest Drive, an address that already exists. City officials gave the family living on the property the chance to name the street, and Carrera Lane was chosen from a list of pre-approved names. The city hopes this change to Carrera Lane will prevent confusion for emergency responders. 

Council members also considered authorizing the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport to incur debt for the purchase of facilities to accommodate the rapid growth of the airport in the last 18 months after partnering with United Airlines.

Contact Jamie McEachin at mceachja@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.