FERRUM — The Franklin County Planning Commission voted Tuesday night in support of the Ferrum Area Plan, a land-use plan that serves as a guide for future growth and development.

The county’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 2007, called for the creation of “detailed community plans to help guide growth and development” for its two unincorporated towns and seven villages. The Ferrum plan is the county’s third so far.

The commission held a public hearing on the Ferrum Area Plan on Tuesday night at a church in Ferrum. The meeting was moved from its usual Rocky Mount location to encourage Ferrum residents to participate.

The latest draft of the plan identifies specific strategies that will help the county achieve the three overarching goals identified last year.

Those goals include creating a stronger sense of place, supporting economic development and a sense of vitality, and enhancing community well-being, health and safety.

More than a dozen strategies are outlined in the plan. Some are capital projects and others are programs. Here are a few:

  • Creating a community event space within walking distance of the village center
  • Incorporating art and local history into hard infrastructure, such as building facades
  • Establishing a group of local and regional stakeholders that meets regularly to advance broader economic goals
  • Conducting a study to determine potential uses and their return on investment for the 80-some acres of county-owned property near the college
  • Encouraging the construction of additional housing, including options for seniors who wish to stay in the area as they age
  • Increasing broadband access to benefit both businesses and residents
  • Expanding the volunteer fire department to include community gathering spaces and other governmental services, such as a library

Steve Sandy, director of planning and community development, said citizen participation is key to implementing many of these strategies.

“There’s a lot of potential here, but we need the community to be involved,” he said.

A number of Ferrum residents, including local business owners and people with ties to the college, chimed in with their thoughts about the proposed approach to revitalizing the area’s village center.

When asked how citizens could help bring the plan to action, Sandy said he viewed forming the stakeholder group as the first step.

Citizens volunteered to get involved, and they were serious. When the meeting wrapped up, a woman called out from the audience, “Where do we sign up?”

Dawn Tyson said she moved to Franklin County in 2014 from a sleepy town called Bethel, North Carolina. There, citizens and merchants banded together to revitalize the town, she said, organizing a parade and establishing a park. She believes the Ferrum community can do something similar.

Emily Blankenship-Tucker, a Ferrum resident, advocated for more public transportation in the community. It would not only help people get out of Ferrum for appointments or shopping in Rocky Mount and Roanoke, she said, but also bring in people .

Others voiced support for senior housing, perhaps at the county-owned site. They said it would allow older residents to stay in the community as they get older.

Blue Ridge District Supervisor Tim Tatum said after the meeting that he was reminded of the grassroots effort to start the Henry Volunteer Fire Department. When a group of dedicated citizens works together toward a common goal, Tatum said, “there’s no stopping them.”

It’s an exciting time in Ferrum, Tatum said, with projects such as the pedestrian bridge and the construction of a new Tri-Area Health Center building, along with a new administration at the college looking to expand offerings. Tatum said he hopes the village plan will build off that momentum.

The supervisor said he was pleased with the level of citizen involvement so far, and felt many good ideas were voiced at the meeting. Tatum said he expects the board of supervisors to support the plan.

“I think it’s a movement in the right direction for the community,” he said.

The planning commission voted 5-0, with two members absent, to recommend approval of the Ferrum Area Plan to the board of supervisors. That body will consider adopting it in August.

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Casey Fabris covers Franklin County, Rocky Mount and Ferrum College.

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