Onancock Gets Almost $1M To Improve Northeast Neighborhood

A Virginia Main Street sign stands at the entrance to Onancock. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

The Onancock Town Council held its meeting Monday, Jan. 24, virtually due to high COVID-19 case numbers.

The council postponed a public hearing scheduled for the Jan. 24 meeting to solicit comment about suggested changes to the town ordinance governing homestays and short-term rentals.

“We were expecting a fairly large number of people showing up and we were concerned more with the people in the crowd, not the council, but that there would be too many people in the council chamber,” said Mayor Fletcher Fosque, adding, “We will do everything in our power to have that scheduled in February.”

Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Project Awarded Grant
Councilwoman Joy Marino announced a Community Development Block Grant was awarded for a project to improve the northeast neighborhood in town. The award is for $978,000, Marino said.

“A lot of people did a lot of work for a long time” to bring it to fruition, she said.

Councilwoman Thelma Gillespie said she was pleased to see the amount of the award.

“We have so many blighted houses in this neighborhood that really need to be torn down because they are beyond repair,” she said.

The grant is to pay for improvements including sidewalks, removing derelict buildings, rehabilitating houses, streetlights, and drainage improvements.

The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission will administer the grant for the town, according to Town Manager Matt Spuck.

Wastewater Plant Transferred to HRSD
Spuck told the council ownership of the town’s wastewater treatment plant was transferred formally to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District Friday.

“All of our bonds have been fully relieved, hence, canceled,” Spuck said.

Of three employees at the plant, two transferred to working for HRSD as of Friday and the third employee worked through the weekend and now has retired after 31 years working for the town, according to Spuck.

The next phase of the project is to transfer the collection system to HRSD, which Spuck called “a much more complicated contract negotiation.”

HRSD is working to survey and legally clear easements related to the collection system.
“The key behind this first phase is that now the town has avoided all future risk for owning and operating a wastewater treatment plant — and that’s a huge future gain for the town,” Spuck said.

Onancock Main Street Update
Janet Fosque of Onancock Main Street gave an update on the organization’s accomplishments in 2021.

The designation as a Virginia Main Street town in fall 2020 “brought with it services to Onancock valued at over $100,000,” mainly in 2021.

OMS during the past year increased its board to nine members and also increased its volunteer numbers, resulting in 1,873 volunteer hours given in 2021 — a value of more than $53,000 to the town, according to Fosque.

OMS received $96,000 in grants and $27,000 in services last year, enabling the organization to hire a marketing firm to develop a town brand and logo.

The same firm helped create a new website, experienceonancock.com, as a central place to promote the town to visitors and to provide resources to businesses.

“We continue to promote brand useage, the website, and newly opened and existing businesses through newsletters, press releases, rack cards, and social media,” Fosque said.

Virginia Tourism Commission funds were used to showcase Onancock throughout the month of September at the East Coast Gateway at the New Kent Welcome Center on I-64.

The promotion included banners, a constantly running tourism video, brochures from many businesses, and display cases featuring Onancock artists.

The organization intends to do the promotion again next September, Fosque said.
OMS commissioned a financial feasibility study of the Lilliston building downtown “to help provide a clearer picture to a prospective developer of the cost and feasibility of bringing that building back into service,” Fosque said.

The group also commissioned a market study for the town to identify potential new businesses to fill empty buildings and to help better understand downtown economic conditions and identify opportunities for growth.

The study is available to any business or prospective business that wishes to use the information, according to Fosque.

OMS participated in a town management team that administered around $350,000 in federal small business recovery funds in 2021.

OMS has begun to implement a comprehensive funding strategy for the organization, including a video campaign to inform the public of “who we are and what we are doing,” along with a newsletter, and the addition of a “donate” button on the website, Fosque said.
The organization is planning an in-person fundraising event for 2022, after events were delayed last year due to the pandemic.

Goals for 2022 include inventorying the condition of the downtown district and identifying improvement opportunities. OMS is working with an architectural firm, through Virginia Main Street, to identify assets and needed additions and improvements downtown.

OMS can work with business owners to deliver architectural renderings showing the potential of their properties, Fosque said.

Council members this week were given one such rendering, showing what a refurbished town hall could look like, which OMS representatives hope to review with the council in the near future in order to get officials’ feedback.

OMS met with the town manager to review planned uses of ARPA federal funds coming to town, so the organization will not “have redundancy in the efforts that we apply to, looking for grant funding,” Fosque said.

“We will continue to promote businesses and the town,” she said, adding OMS plans to develop a business owner’s toolkit to help businesses know what resources and services are available to them through Main Street.

OMS also will be applying for a community business launch grant, which Fosque said is very competitive, through Virginia Main Street.

The process culminates in a ‘Shark Tank’-type competition for financial incentives for a business to set up in town.

Additionally, OMS received $10,000 from Virginia Main Street to use for “a high-impact design project,” which will be announced soon, Fosque said.

Paper Roads
The council voted to schedule a public hearing on a proposed ordinance governing development of land contiguous to “paper roads.”

The term is defined as land owned by the town, originally established to facilitate the construction of a public road, but which has not been developed as a road.

The town has a right-of-way on the property and no construction may happen on it, other than the development of a road meeting certain requirements, according to the proposed ordinance.

Public Comment
Kathy Boyd during public comment said she is appreciative of having two working boats docked at the wharf during the winter season.

“We are very pleased to see two watermen tied up at our town wharf for the winter and we hope that that will continue,” she said.

Spuck later in the meeting said the town was able to charge a “very cost-conscious” seasonal rate to the working boats and also to allow them to hook up to electricity.

Boyd also spoke about Christmas decorations, saying, “Our town looked spectacular and I know it was a combination of many efforts. … It was inclusive of different neighborhoods in our town and it just was lovely.”

Boyd credited Janet Fosque and a committee of volunteers, saying they inventoried what the town had and made decorations.

“If there hadn’t been a vision, we wouldn’t have had this spectacular event — and newcomers in the town stepped up to the plate and did stuff, so I’m really appreciative of that,” she said.

Janet Fosque said “It’s truly a whole bunch of holiday decorating elves in our town that make this happen.”

She invited anyone interested in being on the committee to apply.

The council approved appointing Fletcher Fosque to the planning commission, Cynthia Holdren, who recently was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Town Council, to the personnel committee, and Maphis Oswald as vice mayor.

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