Despite a couple of troubling setbacks in recent years, good things do appear to once again be on the horizon for scenic Tazewell County. But challenges remain, and a few nagging problems appear to be sticking around.
The current zoning ordinance being considered by the county Board of Supervisors seeks to protect the Eastern District, which is basically the greater Bluefield, Va., and Springville areas, from so-called “undesirable developments.” It specifically identifies wind turbines and medical waste facilities as developments that would be restricted. The problem, of course, is that Dominion Energy has never officially abandoned its controversial wind turbine farm project proposed for scenic East River Mountain.
Yes, the go-green movement is still alive and well across America, and in the Commonwealth of Virginia. But the push for wind turbines, solar panels and other green initiatives that Democrats, and President Barack Obama, continue to advocate have come at a price for the coalfields of Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. New federal regulations coming out of Washington have and continue to negatively impact the coalfield communities and the mining industry in general. For example, the newest rules would make it very difficult – if not impossible – to build new coal-fired power plants.
But the opposition that we’ve seen locally to wind turbines appears to be more focused on the location of the proposed wind farm, as opposed to the concept of wind turbines in general. East River Mountain is one of the most scenic vistas in our region. In many ways, that great mountain helps to define our region, and who we are. Who hasn’t marveled over that astonishing aerial photograph Mel Grubb took several years ago – dubbed “the phenomenon” – of fog descending over East River Mountain. The thought of having wind turbines on that beautiful landscape simply doesn’t sit well with a lot of citizens in our region. A ridgeline protection ordinance passed by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors in 2010 will probably keep the wind turbine farm from every coming to fruition.
Before the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, two exciting projects were unveiled for our region. The first was the proposed Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park. As its name suggested, it was envisioned as a large-scale business park aimed at attracting technology-based jobs. The industrial site was proposed to be developed midway between the town of Bluefield, Va., and the Springville community with scenic East River Mountain as its backdrop. Early visions for the project included housing and possible retail or commercial developments as well.
At the same time, plans for a large-scale retail shopping center project were unveiled at the prime Leatherwood property near the state-line border of Virginia and West Virginia. Developing both sides of U.S. Route 460 in Virginia’s Tallest Town made a lot of sense, and was a natural extension of the already robust shopping center growth we had seen in the area.
Then came the Great Recession. Few saw, or could have predicted, the financial storm that was about to hit America. Businesses, big and small, were closed. Thousands across the country became unemployed. Those businesses that were successful in weathering the storm also put their expansion plans on hold. Soon promising projects such as the Leatherwood development also were put on hold. But Tazewell County officials marched on with the technology park project. The technology park, or at least a much smaller version of the original vision, was ultimately constructed with two sites that were ready for occupancy.
Today, several years later, the technology park is still vacant and the Leatherwood project has been resurrected although on a much smaller scale. Town officials and the developer of the proposed Leatherwood project are currently waiting on the Virginia Department of Transportation to give final approval for an application to break limited access at the intersection of Commerce Drive and U.S. Route 460. Negotiations also are underway with prospective tenants. The development is proposed to include at least one “big box” store in a proposed 100-acre shopping center site with possible housing being developed in the area as well. With hope, the Leatherwood project will come to fruition the second-time around.
Tazewell County officials also are continuing their aggressive marketing efforts for the Bluestone, and they have proposed zoning for the Eastern District as a way to ensure prospective tenants of the technology park that certain undesirable projects won’t be developed near the site.
Charles Stacy, the Eastern District board of supervisors member, says the county does not want to ask companies to spend millions of dollars on a high-tech facility only to have something undesirable like a turkey processing plant nearby. There appears to be citizen support – at least for the moment – for zoning in the Eastern District. It will be interesting to see if the zoning ordinance as currently proposed is adopted by the supervisors.
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