By Ike Parrish
The Orange Town Council voted to hold a public hearing Monday, Nov. 15 to solicit public comment on a proposed shared use agreement to pave the parking lot at the Silk Mill complex. The agreement offers a cost split between the town and the property owner, former Orange Town Council member Kent Higginbotham, to make improvements to the lot.
“We talked with the owner of the Silk Mill complex in order to do a kind of 50/50 [cost share],” Orange Town Manager Greg Woods said. “The owner benefits from having people there, the rest of the businesses benefit by having parking.”
The four-acre lot would offer 272 parking spaces for the adjacent Silk Mill complex. The lot is privately owned property but would be used as shared parking for 24 different businesses. However, five of the businesses are owned by Higginbotham and two of the businesses are owned by his son, Robert Higginbotham. The remaining 17 businesses and the townspeople would also benefit from lot improvements, Woods said.
The town’s offer is to pay only for the asphalt for the lot and nothing else. Orange Public Works has estimated the town’s contribution to amount to $221,000. Higginbotham would be responsible for the remaining cost of construction including demolition of structures, grading, compacting and lighting. Any further cost of maintenance or repair would also be paid half by the town and half by the property owner.
The shared use agreement offer has been presented to Higginbotham, who, so far, has not responded with any comments or formal agreements.
Councilmember Donna Waugh-Robinson spoke in favor of the shared use agreement.
“I think it’s needed for the businesses there. I know that the landowner owns some of those businesses but the other people that do not, they need that parking,” said Waugh-Robinson.
The council voted to advertise a public hearing at its regular monthly meeting Nov. 15 to amend the FY22 budget to allow paving of the Silk Mill complex for public parking with only vice mayor Rick Sherman voting against the motion. The date for the public hearing was not set at the Oct. 18 council meeting.
“To me it just looks like this is for the private owner. The other partnership we went into was for at least six or seven owners. This is for one owner. This isn’t a public lot; this is a pavement job for a private business owner, so I’m not for it,” Sherman said.
In other council business at the October 18 meeting, a broadband update was provided.
Since most of the Town of Orange is already serviced with internet providers, the town has not been a priority in the county broadband authority’s multi-million-dollar effort to bring internet service to the underserved areas of Orange County. The town administration has solicited bids from broadband providers to determine which fiber broadband company is best suited to service the town with affordable internet.
The council heard a presentation from John Cooley, Orange Director of Community Development, detailing a proposed offer from Firefly Fiber Broadband to provide the Town of Orange with high-speed internet.
“It looks like Firefly has a predetermined business plan, or business model that is prepared to apply to the Town of Orange,” Cooley said.
The proposal outlined details different residential and business packages in comparison with FiberLync, the county broadband authority’s program that provides access for much of the county and some areas within the town. The two broadband companies offer near identical packages. However, FiberLync has not expressed an interest in being the town’s broadband provider, leaving Firefly as the frontrunner to provide broadband to the Town of Orange, Cooley reported.
Firefly offers residential packages with unlimited data with speeds of 100 Mbps download and upload for $49.99/month and speeds of 1 Gbps download and upload for $79.99/month. Their businesses packages include unlimited data with speeds of 100 Mbps for $79.99/month, 250 Mbps for $149.99/month and 1000 Mbps for $249.99/month.
The next step will be for the town council to hold a public hearing on the detailed proposal at which point the council will determine whether to proceed into a negotiation phase with proposed broadband providers or to defer a decision until additional information is received from one or more of the proposers.
Firefly, which is wholly-owned by Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, is currently partnering with Dominion on other projects. Dominion would allow them to install fiber cables above ground where electrical lines run making it possible to complete all fiber installations in a 12-to-18-month time window in the Town of Orange, if a contract were to be signed.