WARRENTON — Mayor Henry Balensifer is proposing a new mantra for the city: “Warrenton for Warrenton.”
The city has grown steadily, becoming a hub for big box stores like Costco, Walmart, Home Depot and others. Along with commercial development, there has been an explosion in new housing.
In a State of the City address Tuesday, Balensifer said the city must assess growth more intelligently in the future and ensure projects have tangible benefits for residents.
Growth has brought its own problems.
Demands on city services have increased, while city staff has not grown, and in some departments has even shrunk. Complaints about traffic congestion are common and, in their desire to grow, city leaders allowed entire neighborhoods to be built with no street lighting, narrow roads and “minimalistic” infrastructure that “did not consider future plans for growth,” Balensifer said.
“This has got to change,” the mayor said, adding later, “Regardless of who, how or why these developments were allowed, they are here now. The issues of yesterday are problems the current commission must own. They are our problems now.”
The City Commission can fix some of the issues, he said. “Others we’ll just have to learn from.”
In the past two years, the commission has pivoted from an “open for business” model to an emphasis on quality of life and the belief that, in Balensifer’s words, “growth should pay for growth.”
For developers and residents, this approach has included a renewed emphasis by the City Commission and staff on city standards and requirements, amended codes, new fee schedules and an aggressive campaign against nuisance properties.
Local groups led by commissioners have worked with property owners to clean up problem sites, beautify and revitalize downtown and solidify plans for improvements at the Hammond Marina — all work Balensifer hopes will continue.
“Because it’s high time Warrenton asks for better,” he said. “It’s time we invest in ourselves, not for others but for our own sakes.”
As part of its campaign for better quality of life, the city plans to declare new heritage districts, charted along the lines of the historic towns and neighborhoods that dissolved to form modern-day Warrenton. The first heritage district will be in Hammond, where Balensifer and other commissioners hope changes at the marina and infrastructure improvements will inject new energy into the neighborhood’s sleepy downtown.
“I’m not interested in chasing tourists,” Balensifer said, adding, “We’re interested in shaping our future for ourselves, immediately and in the long term. It is my hope that we can delve a bit deeper into what does it mean to be a Warrentonian.”