Monday, December 8, 2014

Working For You, Is Getting to Them

I was very disappointed to see this hypercritical Purcellville Gazette Staff Editorial in the December 6, 2014 Issue.  

The assertion that this council has not moved forward on its initiative toward transparency is dishonest and the criticism of the Crooked Run Orchard Settlement was misguided.

With regards to transparency:

Three months ago this town council voted 4-3 to interview candidates for committees and assignments in open session.  The previous council(s) had done all interviewing in closed session. Our goal with this initiative is that the public be able to witness first hand whether the candidates are qualified and since they are an extension of government and the elected council makes these selections on behalf of the citizens, part of that selection process should be open much like the election process.    

This council also made a huge leap forward with making all audio of public meetings available within 24 hours after meetings. This allows members of the public who can not attend meetings to listen and still be informed.  It holds myself and my colleagues accountable to what is said and done at our meetings and ultimately brings more clarity to the business being conducted on behalf of the citizens.   

Mayor Fraser has brought forward as business the option to institute the Open.Gov platform for our town financials.  Open.Gov allows residents and town staff to see trends, details, and spending.  It enables the town to share our financial data to improve communication and build trust with the public.  Mayor Fraser is exploring options and there are still plans to bring it forward so we can bring the town business to the public.  

With regards to the Crooked Run Orchard Settlement, I have previously written about why I voted to end the legal conflict with the Browns.  With the guidance and advice from our town attorney, outside legal counsel, the town manager, and the two attorneys on our town council as well as the other members of council, I feel we made an informed and rational decision.  

To counter the other "concerns" voiced by the Purcellville Gazette, I have these additional comments.

1) Public Input: As elected members of the public, we are charged with making decisions on behalf of the public.  The process of any settlement must be done in private executive session so that negotiations with the Browns would not be compromised. I have not seen nor heard any negative commentary regarding the settlement and have only been approached by residents with overwhelming support of our effort to close this chapter in our town's history.  

2) The Gazette opined that the Town Council "agreed to change the Town Plan and rezone the property to a more intensive use with no fees or proffers to offset the impact to taxpayers."  The ACC (Agricultural Conservancy/Commercial District) zoning was developed specifically with Crooked Run Orchard in mind and this zoning designation is consistent with the Town Plan. The property is currently zoned Transitional, which is a intended to be a temporary zoning district designation assigned to newly-annexed land. The Brown's at one time had zoning for 300 Townhouses on a portion of their property, but it now is in permanent conservation easement and preserved as farmland. 

The total property in question is eight acres and the property could possibly accommodate one animal hospital, one restaurant, one small country inn, and only eight homes, if developed with residences.  The Town predicts that the surrounding road network will have the capacity to accommodate these uses, in which case we would not expect to receive a large transportation proffer.  With any redevelopment, the developer would be required to prepare a traffic study to analyze the traffic impacts and the road capacity. If a turn lane was warranted off the Southern Collector Road by the development, a turn lane can be required even under a by-right development scenario and the town does not expect that this development would require much more than a turn lane on the SCR.  In addition to a transportation analysis, there would be an analysis of the water and sewer services necessary to serve the site.  If the site could be adequately served with no upgrades to the current system, then no proffered improvements would be expected.  If developed with non-residential rezoning, the town would not seek a proffer for schools, since no school children are generated by the other by-right uses. The upside, is that the commercial uses that become available under the ACC zoning district will generate greater tax revenues for the Town than both the existing agricultural use in place and the by-right uses under the existing Transition X zoning district. 

3) This Settlement eliminates the Town’s risk of having to pay more than $1 million for the land taken for the SCR, which could occur as a result of an unfavorable jury verdict.

4) The proposed compensation of $1 million is about 25% of the Brown’s $4 million appraisal, and is more than twice as much as the Town’s original $432,000 appraisal. 

5) Settlement saves money otherwise spent on legal fees, expert fees, and ancillary expenses of both a trial and a subsequent appeal. Legal fees for a trial of this scope could exceed $250,000.  If we went to trial and won, we would have spent $1 million regardless and still risk future appeals and its associated costs. In this instance, we eliminate that risk altogether.  

6) The settlement agreement seeks to reduce traffic conflicts between the SCR and Mr. Brown’s farm equipment by adding a crossing across the SCR. 

7) The Town will retain needed rights for SCR right-of-way maintenance and utility extensions.

8) The Gazette Editorial stated they had concern because "two successful candidates for Town office had their political campaign signs all over the property in question" and the fact that we voted for this settlement "further fuels the public cynicism."  Again, there has been no negative public input via email, commentary at subsequent town meetings, or via social media.  The vote to settle was 5-2; those voting in favor to settle included myself, Mayor Fraser, Ben Packard, Doug McCollum, and John Nave. Doug McCollum and Ben Packard were successful candidates for election this year and did not have their signs on Crooked Run Orchard property and their yes vote along with John Nave's destroys the Gazette's logic that political sway garnered favor.  

There is clearly something larger at play here other than this settlement and transparency for the Purcellville Gazette and it is up to the town residents to decide what that is. But rest assured, I will never leave blank, empty claims such as this unanswered. I was elected by the people of this town to work on their behalf, and I will continue to do so regardless if the Gazette or any publication chooses to post accusatory editorials. It will not slow my resolve to do what is right for the citizens of Purcellville.  

Furthermore, I encourage all interested citizens to be present participants in our open, transparent processes.  There is an opportunity bi-weekly to participate at the town council meetings and only by attending will you truly see, hear, and understand the true business of the town.   Conforming to other people's vitriol is caving to the most foolish part of their nature.  

John Lydon said, If you are pissing people off, you know you are doing something right." Apparently working for you, the citizens of Purcellville, is getting to them.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Town of Purcellville Settlement with Crooked Run Orchard

There has been some chatter about the Crooked Run Orchard Settlement of this past week and I was a bit dismayed by the quotes, by previous Town Council members, in the print version of the Leesburg Today Article, which was quite different than the online version. I want to clarify my position, even though it appears overwhelming that the citizens of Purcellville are very pleased with our vote. 

From the article, Tom Priscilla "questioned the wisdom of dipping into the town reserves. "So the cushion you'd be setting aside in the regular order of business is gone.  Where will the money come from, what now won't you do? What won't be available for whatever purpose you might have planned for it?"    Jim Wiley called it “unprecedented” and a “rip-off.”  I find this rhetoric hypocritical when you consider it was their litigious actions, under the direction of former Mayor Bob Lazaro, which directly led to the increase in the town’s meals tax. 

On June 12, 2012, the Purcellville Town Council voted to increase the meals tax to 5 percent, making it the highest meals tax rate in the county. According to a Leesburg TodayArticle, “council members pointed to a need for increased revenue to recover legal costs of approximately $1.5 million, some dating back to 2000, incurred in pursuing bonding companies over unfulfilled public infrastructure improvements at Hirst Farm and Locust Grove; costs the town incurred in legal battles with the previous Board of Supervisors over issues related to annexation and the Southern Collector Road; and additional design and construction costs relating to that road. They put the price tag of those items at $1.5 million.” 

Councilwoman Joan Lehr was opposed to the tax increase and offered an amended motion for the town to track revenue from the 1 percent increase separately and dedicate those funds specifically to pay off the $1.5 million total, which the council voted 6-1 to approve, and her rationale for that was valid. Mrs. Lehr was still opposed to the increase.    

The decision to settle was born out of a desire to end the constant legal battles between the Browns and the Town and to avoid the potential liability if we went to trial and lost, and the potential endless back and forth appeals process. The Browns did not get the $4.5 million dollars they were seeking and even though some past members of council felt the million dollar settlement was too high, the town would have likely spent that or more if we had gone to trial and won, which would still leave the town open to future appeals and additional cost.  With the guidance and recommendations of our attorneys and the town manager, this was the right thing to do for the town. 

In an effort to not increase the burden on residents and businesses, we have sought a solution that we can afford to pay for without adding debt or increased taxes and does not hurt the town's operations.  We also close the door to the acrimonious relationship between Crooked Run Orchard and the Town and that in the end, is good for everyone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Purcellville's former Mayor Bob Lazaro posted to Twitter this week declaring he is "so glad we made investments in new water resources in #Purcellville when the opportunity arrived. Scary in California" with a link to this Washington Post Article, titled "West's historic drought stokes fears of water crisis."  

I replied to him that his post was anecdotal because he implies that such drought conditions won't happen in Purcellville simply because of the investments his town council made, but it doesn't give a full picture. What is going on in California, and now spans a dozen states and nearly 600 counties, is that these areas have failed to get the needed rains for a third straight year in a row and their aquifers have begun to fail and dry up. 

You can have 100 water wells and the most advanced water system in the world, but lack of rain will ultimately undo all that work and investment. Because drought is progressive in nature and comes on slowly, it is often not recognized until it reaches a severe level. Several weeks, months, or even years may pass before people know that a drought is occurring. The end can happen as gradually as it began.  Municipalities can reduce their susceptibility of their community to drought, but a long sustained multi-year drought is no match for number of wells and advanced technologies.  

Ground water, which is found in aquifers below the surface of the Earth, is used to provide a large portion of the Nation's population with drinking water.  The water level in the aquifer that supplies a well does not always stay the same. Droughts, seasonal variations in rainfall, and pumping rates affect the height of the underground water levels. If a well is pumped at a faster rate than the aquifer around it is recharged by precipitation or other underground flow, then water levels in the well will be lowered. An extreme lack of rain will contribute heavily to this.  The water level in a well can also be lowered if other wells near it are withdrawing too much water and most homes in Western Loudoun (outside town limits) are served by private wells.  Municipalities have little to no control how much those on private well draw from them, so even without the lack of rain we are vulnerable due to increased growth.

Purcellville has added more water wells simply because we have tripled in population in the past decade and it was needed. The town is better able to adequately meet demand which the previous town council initiated and should be commended for doing so.  However, the reality is that even our municipality would suffer the same fate as these other areas if the rain stopped.  

It is dishonest of Bob Lazaro to infer that Purcellville is impervious to what is happening elsewhere.  It is also disheartening for anyone to imply that the lack of water out West is somehow the fault of these 600 counties and a lack of foresight is to blame. 

The force of nature is "an event outside of human control of which no one can be held responsible."  We should have empathy for our fellow Americans affected by the lack of rain and drought conditions because one day we may suffer the same fate.  

If you want to see the effects of too much growth where water resources are limited, click here to see a timeline of growth in Las Vegas and the nearby water reservoir level and the drying up of Lake Urmia. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First Town Council Meeting, July 22, 2014

Last night was the first meeting of the new Town Council.  
Here is my recap of the evening.  

We started out with interviews for Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review. All of the candidates were impressive. In the end, the majority chose Keith Melton and Theresa Stein to serve on the PC and David Marlowe for the BAR.  I was against Keith Melton simply because the people chose not to place him in public office this past May and appointing him to serve in our government was ignoring the will of the people even though they technically don't have a voice in this appointment.  In the end, I believe Keith will serve the town well, as will the others, and Purcellville will continue making measurable improvements along the way.  There are several positions that will open up in the coming months and if you are interested in volunteering please look at the upcoming vacancies to see if there is one that interests you.  

John Nave was unanimously appointed Vice-Mayer with a term expiring in July 2015.  The primary function of the vice-mayor is to serve as the "acting-mayor" in the mayor's absence.   

Doug McCollum will serve a two-year term as a voting member of the Planning Commission.  

I was appointed to serve as liaison on the newly formed Purcellville Committee on the Arts.  

Loudoun County Representatives came forward to discuss an amendment to the zoning ordinance to add Commuter Parking Lot to the list of uses requiring a special use permit in the Institutional/Public zoning district.  Loudoun County wishes to locate another Park-N-Ride lot in Western Loudoun and Patrick Henry College has agreed to allowing a commuter lot, for possibly five years, on their campus and this text amendment would allow it.  It would still require council approval and public hearings to take place. The council took no action as we all felt that further study needed to occur.  

The Certificate of Design Approval Extension was not adopted and council voted 4 to 3 against the text amendment to change the expiration of a CDA from one to two years from the date of issuance.  This Amendment was not for the developers of Vineyard Square in the sense that it would have been applicable to everyone, however it was a concern of mine that it was being put forward due to their expressed concerns about meeting their deadline and because the former Mayor hastily pushed through the action at the last town council worksession he presided over (it was a public hearing that evening and due to citizen pressure they decided to allow the incoming council to take up the action).   

     After some discussion, Mayor Fraser asked how long the current CDA requirements had been in place (10 years) and in that time only one developer had missed the deadline and it appeared     to have done little to thwart that specific project.  In the end, it was clear there was no direct         need for this change.  
     I must clarify, with regards to Vineyard Square, the developer can still go through with his project as is if he can meet the deadlines.  This action in no way inhibits their project or changes what was approved by the prior town council.  Time will tell if they will have a change of heart and decide to downgrade the project in keeping with the scale of 21st Street.  

In July 2014, the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation to permit electronic or telephone participation in a meeting of a public body from a remote location, subject to certain criteria. Town Council discussed whether to allow this and some valid concerns were brought up and we moved to discussed it further.

Citizens and Town Council got to see a presentation on OpenGov Financial Web Application and how it could be applied here in Purcellville.  The idea is to create a more transparent and user friendly system by which citizens could access town financial data.  I went to our website this morning and in order to find and view the town budget a person needs to click 7 times, which means they have to go through 7 pages of content and at the end they have to open a PDF document.  I went to a few of the municipalities listed through the OpenGov Goverment webpage and most had the link listed on their front page.  The city of Springfield, Il was only 3 clicks to see the opengov platform and from that platform you don't have to keep switching to additional pages or content as you do on the Purcellville webpage.  As I said last night, download speeds in Purcellville can vary quite drastically and it is very likely that no one is clicking on the finance information on our website due to attrition or just plain confusion.  The site needs to be more user friendly and with some tweaking I believe that is achievable without major monetary investments. Tasking our IT department with creating a platform like the opengov would far exceed the $5K yearly investment and because the devices through which citizens reach our website vary,  posting PDF documents is outdated and only creates barriers for delivering that information to the people.  Town Council decided to revisit the viability and implementation of such a platform at a future date.  

Overall, it was a good first meeting. It was great to see so many citizens come out and be part of the process and I hope you will continue to be part of progress in Purcellville.   

If you have ideas or input, please contact me at  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Recap of Planning Commission Work Session May 15th

I attended the Planning Commission meeting May 15th since there was to be discussion about re-zoning the Hirst Rd & Maple Ave Corridor from its current Local Service Industrial (CM1) zoning to Mixed-Commercial (MC), a zoning change that was denied to the Catoctin Creek Towne Center developers just a few short months ago by the Planning Commission.  

Town Council Elect Member Ben Packard mentioned last night an "anonymous" email that was sent to many in town that he said contained "half-truths" and "assertions that the Planning Commission is going to be rezoning." The email was sent from Better Growth Purcellville, a collective of citizens who started a petition and headed up the protest to the Catoctin Creek Towne Center Development. They have sent out alert emails during the last year to announce town meetings regarding the development. I was a participant in this collective, but at the beginning of my campaign I relinquished my role.  

I was informed about the Planning Commission Meeting Agenda via a separate email than the one which was sent out to many in the community.  As a petition signer, I too received the email in question and it contained a link to the Planning Commission Agenda and it doesn't appear to indicate that there would be a vote at the meeting and the email contains quotes from the "Action Plan" that was to be discussed at the meeting.   Had I not been informed at the agenda, I too would not have been aware of such proposals. 

Town Staff is putting forth that some zoning (specifically CM-1 and M1) should be consolidated since they are currently very similar, are merely different names for the same uses, and serve the same purpose.  All members of the Planning Commission agreed to this specific zoning terminology change in their action plan (this will still need to go to a public hearing and a vote).   

I am deeply concerned about the proposal to consolidate commercial districts, specifically the CM1 (Local Service Industrial) between Hatcher and Maple.  The staff action proposes it be changed from CM1 to MC (Mixed-Commercial) and that switching to MC will provide the town with the potential for additional revenue for retail expansion into this area. Patrick Sullivan, Purcellville's Director of Community Development, asserted that current zoning in this area isn't allowing the land owners a "return on investment." 

We need to be clear, it isn't the role of our town government to ensure that businesses and land owners get a return on their investment.  As a town we want to make sure we don't have processes that are an impediment to their growth and investments, and this particular rezoning proposal is an attempt to link zoning as part of this argument.  Government can be a friend of the business community, but simultaneously it needs to be a friend to the public, and specifically the taxpayers who support that local government.  While many businesses may oppose some aspects of restrictive laws, taxes, and regulations, in this instance, private enterprise would benefit immediately from a rezoning of these particular parcels of land with the residents of Purcellville unable to have a voice in what would be allowed and could possibly negatively affect them.    

As it is now, if a business entity has a vision for a property, they can put in a request to rezone.  These requests go through the public process and town leaders decide if it will benefit the town in increased revenue, be of value to the citizens, and not negatively affect the town. As it is, any rezoning must be consistent with the town's comprehensive land use plan and guides all decision making. Rezoning these parcels to MC would permit many by right uses that are currently in conflict with the Comprehensive Plan and essentially negates the recent Planning Commission denial of this same MC zoning request back in March 2014.

There are several other areas of town that are currently being planned or in the process of being rezoned to Mixed-Commercial. We need to be tentative about preemptive rezoning and maintaining balance in our zoning and understand that the needs of today may not be the needs of tomorrow. 

The idea of an Adult Care center was brought up last night, something similar which was proposed in the Hirst Rd Charette for this area done in 2009.  Mr. Sullivan asserted that there wasn't enough acreage for such a project, but Cathy Bowman rightly challenged the validity of that statement, especially in light of the fact that the Catoctin Creek Towne Center was slated to have 176 apartments on 13 acres and the Entertainment Center was to be a 18 acres.

 Consider that the Rescue station would be directly across the street, the INOVA care center just down the road, and Loudoun Valley High School is within walking distance and would provide opportunities for volunteer hours for the many students that attend there.  A small community specifically designed and catering to seniors would be an ideal use of this property with its close proximity to the W&OD Trail and Main Street businesses.  

Purcellville has no age restricted community for those aged 55 and older at this time.  Only 6.8% of our population is made up of persons 65 years and older, whereas the state of Virginia averages 12.2%. Most of the baby boom generation will join the "senior" age over the next 5-20 years and Purcellville has an opportunity to meet this unmet demand for living in spacious but smaller units in a walkable and accessible area and we can do that by providing housing options such as town houses, apartments, and possibly a nursing care facility.   

Many long-distance lifestyle moves of older people are temporary. As these people age, they tend to return to the place of origin to be among family and friends. As town leaders, we must be looking at opportunities to attract these retirees that will greatly increase the amount of disposable income in Purcellville and provide a true boost to area businesses. This demographic won't strain schools, will not exacerbate traffic since many will have already left the work force, and with the Carver Senior Center we are poised to embrace the future needs of the aging population here in Loudoun County and Northern Virginia.  

Preemptive rezoning of land parcels in Purcellville to the highest commercial intensity would naturally increase the land's value,  but it gives town leaders and residents less flexibility on how best to grow our Town and opens us up to the type of commercial businesses that may ultimately strip away our small town feel.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Planning Commission Meeting Thursday, May 15th 7pm

Purcellville Planning Commission Meeting & Work Session is tomorrow evening.  

On the Agenda is discussion of (potential) Rezoning Changes, which includes but is not limited to 
the Hirst Rd & Maple Ave corridor from its current zoning to Mixed-Commercial. This is not a public hearing and no vote is taking place on rezoning, it is merely for planning purposes.  

It is important to stay abreast of these meetings and proposals because Several Mixed-Commercial rezonings were recently denied by the Planning Commission in March (Catoctin Creek Towne Center) based on our Comprehensive Plan and the negative strain on our infrastructure it would cause. 

With regards to the current zoning, this comment concerns me: 
"As presently zoned, this area will most likely develop the way Richardson Lane and Bailey Lane have developed in large lot industrial buildings.  This will limit revenue for the Town as these types of businesses do not produce high end property tax revenue for the Town"
We shouldn't be focused solely on "revenue", we need to be focused on the people of Purcellville. We need to weigh the cost/benefits to increased infrastructure costs for schools, police, constant road improvements ,and increases in traffic, etc. and to include the input of residents.

Click Here to Read the Planning Commission Agenda for May 15, 2014 

I encourage all residents to attend this meeting and to continue to be involved in our local government so that your voice is never diminished and you can be part of the process.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thank You Purcellville

I am immensely grateful to my family, friends, and supporters who so generously contributed their time and effort to my campaign.  It was inspiring and enjoyable to meet so many residents of Purcellville during the campaign, which further affirmed that my message was their message. You took the time to share with me your ideas, your concerns, your aspirations, and I appreciate your willingness to share what matters most to you.

Going forward, we need to take a coordinated look at our community and work together in the best interests of our citizens. We must to be pro-active and not re-active. We need to continue to fight against development that does not truly benefit our community or truly contribute positively to our local economy. We must work in partnership with our county and state legislatures to obtain our fair share of county and state tax dollars. As a town we need to be better communicators and we need to be more transparent with your tax dollars and strive for a sound financial foundation, which will help grow our local economy and provide the funds to meet the needs of our residents.  

I want to encourage everyone to stay involved by attending town meetings so your voice will continue to be heard. Town Hall is open to everybody and the more active and willing to contribute our residents are, the faster we will achieve our vision for Purcellville. We can’t do this job without the involvement and openness of the people.

Purcellville faces challenges in the coming years, but we can overcome them if we always do what is best for residents. I continue to be delighted that my family picked Purcellville as the place to raise our three daughters and I will work hard to see this town reach its full potential without abandoning what makes it so charming and attractive to those who choose to live here. Thank you.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Developer Serves Up A False Promise To Manipulate The Debate

The local fire & rescue department were told they would receive $40,000 from the development of Catoctin Creek Towne Center.  Now that the development has (likely temporarily) withdrawn, many of our local fire & rescue volunteers are displeased with those who were opposed to the development because they will now lose out on those needed funds.   

Below is the last minute proffer added on March 4, 2014 (The only proffer included during the entire year and a half process was $1,000,000 for traffic improvements).  

Let’s look at the square footage of the proposed development:

                                    226,997         Apartments
                                    3,444            Apt Clubhouse
                                    28,000           Entertainment Venue
                                    300               Visitors Center

This equates to $25,874, not $40,000. 

It is shameful that our public services are so strained that we would accept and want a development that would have such a negative impact on our community.  We must find better and more efficient ways to fund our public services so that these types of false choices do not have to be made.