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Amherst County prepares for Starbucks, Cookout to set up shop
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Amherst County prepares for Starbucks, Cookout to set up shop

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Amherst County is slated to receive two new businesses in the heart of the Madison Heights commercial corridor – Starbucks and Cookout – according to county officials.

Jeremy Bryant, director of community development, said during an Amherst County Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 23 the popular chains are pursuing plans to build new buildings within close proximity of each other on U.S. 29 Business. Starbucks would construct a new facility on the site of the former Country Cookin, which opened in 2002 and closed last year, according to Bryant.

Just south of that, Cookout is set to locate on the site of a former Long John Silver’s, according to Bryant.

The addition of the well-known coffee and fast food establishments is welcome news for county officials as a master plan for development and redevelopment in Madison Heights is picking up momentum. Bryant said the area the master plan, a $200,000 project in the county’s budget, targets improvements for stretches from the Virginia 130 intersection with U.S. 29 to the James River.

The Westie, a 41-unit apartment building in a former public school on Phelps Road that recently opened and current construction of a new Waffle House and a car wash, respectively, are along that stretch. The Waffle House site is just north of the River James shopping center, where Lowe’s and the Madison Heights library are located, and the car wash project is taking shape across the highway from the Walmart shopping center.

Bryant recently told the Amherst County Planning Commission a firm has been chosen to bring the master plan to fruition, but he didn’t announce the company’s name because a contract had not been signed. Three firms, one in Nebraska and two in Virginia, submitted proposals, he said.

The master plan process includes data gathering, a survey and stakeholder interviews that would include the board of supervisors, the commission and county staff, Bryant said.

Supervisors during the Aug. 23 planning retreat at Sweet Briar College discussed goals and vision for the county in upcoming years, a large part of which includes attracting development and business activity, particularly to the southern end of Madison Heights where more services such as public water and sewer are located.

“We want to promote residential development in the southern end,” of Amherst County, Supervisor Tom Martin said.

“There is residential growth in the right places heading at us and we’re planning for more,” County Administrator Dean Rodgers said.

Another major component of Madison Heights’s future lies within the Central Virginia Training Center campus, a site of roughly 350 acres and about 90 buildings on Colony Road that is targeted for future redevelopment. The state-run facility relocated its last remaining resident in spring 2020 and had a mass exodus of hundreds of jobs in the past decade.

Rodgers said the county lost more than 2,000 people with the closure of CVTC. The most recently updated census figures show the county’s population dropped by nearly 1,050 people from 2010 to 2020, but Rodgers said the county is “holding its own” in drawing residents.

“There’s more people coming in to fill that gap,” Rodgers said.

County officials said they are hopeful to find ways to keep young people in the county and attract families while also serving needs of the aging population.

Rodgers also addressed the potential for development opportunities along the county’s riverfront and enhancing the county’s gateway in southern Madison Heights.

“I think a restaurant right there would be superb,” Rodgers said of the county’s riverfront potential.

Bob Hopkins, director of the Amherst County Service Authority, said a new pump station at Harris Creek would aid in the development potential of several key properties near the James River.

Bryant said existing sewer lines in Madison Heights generally are east of U.S. 29 and large vacant parcels of land west of the corridor could use that infrastructure. He added the county has missed out on some potential development without the utilities in place in those areas.

“Over and over again we see them walk away,” Bryant said. “We need to do our part to make sure public services are met.”

Nate Young, the county’s building inspector, said a need for the building and inspections department is to have sufficient staffing to meet demand and not slow down development. The current number of inspectors is unable to provide the same level of customer service the construction community has come to expect from the department and an additional inspector, vehicle and equipment is needed, Young told supervisors.

Young said in 2016, his first year in the position, the county issued 66 single-family dwelling permits. Last year it climbed to 104 permits and is on pace this year to reach 120, he said.

“We are busier,” he said of his office’s workload.

Burying power lines, a measure that would improve aesthetics of Madison Heights, and other ideas such as an aquatic center, splash park, multigenerational community center for underserved youth, a regional sports complex and outdoor movie theater were raised by county department heads as ways to enhance the county.

Looking at ways to generate revenue for the county, investing in water and sewer infrastructure and strategic planning for activities and attractions for youth and the community were among initiatives the board discussed during the workshop. Supervisors also discussed the need to retain quality employees and keep them from going elsewhere.

“I want to keep the finger on the pulse of our staff salaries,” Martin said.

Rodgers said the county is working to change its reputation so more businesses and residents can come in, a “culture change” he added takes seven to 10 years and he feels the county is well on its way. Improvements to existing resources, such as allowing public swimming at Mill Creek Lake, tie in to the goal of keeping people in Amherst County, he said.

“All those little things add up.”

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