By Carol Vaughn —
The Chincoteague Town Council at its Sept. 17 work session heard ideas for repurposing the former Chincoteague fire station on Main Street.
A presentation by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission and consultants Hill Studio included options for using the building for retail space on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.
A grant paid for the preliminary study.
The council voted in October 2019 to purchase the building from the Chincoteague Vol. Fire Company for $600,000, after the fire company recently moved into a new station.
The 13,260-square-foot building had been listed for sale for $775,000.
The oldest part of the fire station was constructed in 1930 and another section was built in 1957.
The overall goal is to provide a use for the historic fire station to allow people to go inside and experience its history, according to Grayson Williams of ANPDC.
“We want to make sure it’s a long-term asset,” he said.
Another goal is to draw pedestrians farther down Main Street, he said.
A survey developed in March about potential uses for the former fire station drew 433 responses.
Hill Studio then completed a report and conceptual designs.
Forty percent of respondents said they would like to see a restaurant in the building’s first floor, while 25% favored mixed use of the space; 22% favored rentable space for events; 22% wanted a visitor center and gallery; and 12% favored storefronts.
Survey takers favored either housing that would be affordable for teachers and others in the workforce and/or office space on the second floor.
Thirty-two percent wanted to see the second floor used for apartments; 24% favored office space; 10% said secondary housing should be the use; 8% favored putting a hotel there; and 2% said it should be used for retail space.
Presenter Maria Saxton of Hill Studio noted apartments on the second floor would have “fantastic” views.
Among challenges related to finding a new use for the old building is ensuring adequate sewage service and parking, Williams said, calling those items “big elephants in the room.”
The most feasible area to place an onsite treatment and disposal sewage system for the building is a Cropper Street property which the town also owns. The storage building there would be demolished in that scenario, according to the presentation.
A system to handle an estimated daily flow of 7,500 gallons would be needed for 6 upstairs apartment and an up to 120-seat restaurant in the building, according to the presentation.
A steering committee is researching zoning criteria for parking.
David Hill, president of Hill Studio, advised the town to place the building on the National Registry of Historic Places, a move that could open up the opportunity for $1 million in funding through tax credits to rehabilitate the building.
Hill also recommended the town bring in a private developer to do the project.
He estimated the project could cost around $3 million, part of which could be recouped from rent and tax revenue.
Around $146,200 a year in rent revenue potentially could come from the property, according to the presentation.
Council member Denise Bowden, who serves on a steering committee studying uses for the building, said the concrete pad at its front “would be a great space for outdoor seating.”
“Right from the get-go, as soon as we purchased this, I had numerous people asking about renting the space,” she said.
“I love the concept; I love the design. Those of us who have been in this building and know its layout…I would never have believed you could get this out of it,” said Bowden, who is a member of the Chincoteague Vol. Fire Company.
Providing affordable housing for teachers and other workers “has always been my goal,” said council member Ellen Richardson.
The next step for the project is to close out the preliminary grant and identify tenants interested in renting space in the building, according to Elaine Meil, ANPDC executive director.
“The next step, at this phase, is to vet this project and see if we can get you the actual people that would pay those rents so that you can do this construction project,” she said.
Hill Studio’s conceptual drawings of the fire station floor plans can be viewed at www.hillstudio.com/chincoteague-historic-firehouse#
Second Round of CARES Act Funding
Chincoteague is receiving another $281,961 in a second round of federal CARES Act funding from Accomack County.
The money is to be used for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town council voted unanimously to approve uses of the money recommended by the budget and personnel committee.
Those uses include:
1 – A continuation of the small business and waterman’s grants, of $4,000 each.
This time, businesses will qualify if all town taxes are paid and a valid business license has been purchased at the time the application is submitted. Those that received a grant in the first round are not eligible. Home occupations are eligible. Rental homes are not eligible.
Watermen with a valid VMRC card and town taxes paid who can prove they harvested and sold at least $15,000 of seafood in the last year are eligible.
Applicants will be qualified on a first come first served basis.
Availability of applications will be advertised, according to Town Manager Mike Tolbert.
2 – Town expenses for telecommuting, such as laptop computers, a server replacement and council iPads.
3 – Hazard pay for employees whose duties require them to be in close contact with potentially positive cases. The committee recommended $2 per hour for all EMS and police and for Public Works employees assigned to clean public restrooms between March 1 and June 30.
Employees will get the hazard pay in a lump sum for work between March 1 and June 30.
4 – Qualifying Public Works projects including erection of plexiglass barriers in the town office and others.
5 – Purchses of personal protective equipment and other items for prevention of COVID-19.
Chamber of Commerce Donation
The council voted to give $25,000 to the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce, which had to cancel its major fundraising events this year due to the pandemic. The money will come from the beach, recreation, and tourism reserve fund.
As of Thursday, Sept. 17, Chincoteague has had 22 coronavirus cases — three more than reported at the council’s previous meeting on Sept. 8, Bryan Rush, emergency management coordinator, told the council.
Two of the new cases were reported Monday, he said.