Pittsylvania officials hope to spur brownfields development
Pittsylvania County’s growth trajectory received an added boost in May when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the county a $600,000 grant to conduct environmental due diligence on 18 brownfield sites in the county.
Five of the sites are considered high priorities. They include the former Southside Manufacturing mill site in Blairs; Pat’s Place in Chatham; the 100 block of South Main Street in Gretna; and Staunton Plaza Shopping Center and the former Burlington Industries property, both in Hurt.
There aren’t any development plans for most of the properties, but the county is talking to companies that might be interested in developing the sites. “This is step one in a three-year process,” says Pittsylvania Economic Development Director Matt Rowe.
Brownfields are previously developed sites that may contain environmental contaminated assets, such as buildings with asbestos or chemical storage tanks that could have leaked into soil or groundwater. “We have to do the studies first and find out if there are any objectionable features on the property,” Rowe adds. “We need to get input from the community and come up with master plans for those areas that may be attractive to outside development.”
Last year’s $34 million Staunton River Plastics project at the former Burlington property — a brownfield site now in the development pipeline — is back on track after funding was delayed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All things considered, the project in Hurt is moving forward at a “lightning pace,” says Mayor Gary Hodnett. “Our community is very excited and looking forward to Staunton River Plastics being an important part of our town, and we all welcome the construction process starting very soon.”
Brownfields studies will help the county market other opportunities, Rowe notes. “These projects have big investors, and investors hate risks. You want to do anything you can to absolve any perceived risk. This study allows them to be more aggressive with their investment timeline because they don’t have to do a separate study.”
Sherman Saunders, chairman of the Danville-Pittsylvania County Regional Industrial Facility Authority, says the Caesars Virginia casino project there is fueling interest to develop other projects in the area.
“It’s a game changer. I have lived in this region all of my life, and I know the struggle this region has been through. We wanted to reinvent the region, see a renaissance, and it’s working.”