Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review of Feb 20th Planning Commission Public Hearing

Warning: A long read.  May require a swig of some Catoctin Creek Distillery's finest spirits to make it easier.  

Fact: In October of 2012, surveyors for the proposed apartment complex were in front of my home and I was able to finagle them into letting me see the plans.  The surveyor and I notated that there was a bridge across Catoctin Creek linking up additional apartment buildings on another parcel of land.  All plans being put forth have not included that parcel of land on the other side of the creek, a property owned by John Chapman. Based on what I saw that day, I feel like we are being fed one bill of goods and will end up with another.  

My Take Away:  John Chapman’s presence at the Planning Commission public hearing made it very clear he has a vested interest in this project going forward, not simply because he owns property and buildings in the vicinity.  This adjoining parcel of land is likely too small to be commercially viable.  The property has little room for a new entrance and exit with egress for Hirst road turning lanes, but it is enough property to add a few apartment buildings and include a fire/rescue entrance and residents would use the main entrance of the complex several hundred yards down Hirst that would be built.  Once PDH-15 is allowed for this applicant, it foreseeable that John Chapman would submit a rezoning for his parcel, which explains the large number of units listed on the site plan indicating that 486 units are the maximum units allowed (see image below and can be viewed online here, page 4)   

Fact:  The developer kept mentioning the “by-right build-out" during his presentation. 

My Take Away: Tilley Entertainment, LLC. was formed last September and added to the plans shortly thereafter. His financial viability is not known and is suspect. It is my personal belief that the entertainment portion was brought in with hopes of persuading the public to accept the apartments. Based on public input last Thursday night, they were mistaken.  Once the rezoning is in place, it will allow the landowner the ability to build whatever they want that zoning allows. "By-right" means they don’t need permission to build as long as what is built is according to the zoning.  The current zoning is light-industrial.  Changing the zoning to mixed-commercial would permit big-box retail and high-traffic commercial entities. 

Fact: Mark Fontaine is a local commercial realtor who spoke at the meeting.  He makes money when this property sells, and this property sale is contingent on the property being rezoned. He mentioned Mrs. Rixley desperately needs to sell this property, as if that should be our concern or part of the decision making.  He lives 3.5 Miles from the proposed development, outside of town limits.  He said no less than 5 times that “Purcellville is NOT a small town.”  The Purcellville Comprehensive Plan specifically asserts the need to “ensure that new residential construction is compatible with the Town’s existing small town character.” Smithsonian Magazine’s recent Top 20 Small Towns list includes several towns whose populations exceed Purcellville’s; Red Bank, NJ pop. 12,200, Durango, CO pop. 16,900, Mill Valley, CA pop. 13,900.  Apparently the identification of small town isn’t as subjective as Mr. Fontaine would like it to be and of course each state and country has varying definitions of small town, but our comprehensive plan mentions the term  “small town,” in reference to Purcellville, no less than a few dozen times. 

Fact: The traffic study was commission by the developer.  Even though it was asserted at the commission meeting that the town hired their own engineers to assess it, those engineers used the developer’s traffic study to do so.  No independent traffic study has been performed. The current traffic study was deemed insufficient, as has already been noted by the town in their staff report. It was noted at the meeting that the traffic would simply be moved from Hirst to Berlin Pike and the Route 7 on ramp.

Fact: In the first plan submitted last fall, Tilley entertainment showed batting cages next to the property line of the proposed apartment complex; which is the opposite side of the property, farthest from the fire station/Maple Ave.  At the previous developer presentation, Mr. Tilley indicated, “the batting cages would be more than 650 feet from the homes behind the fire station.”  At the Planning Commission meeting, a revised plan showed the batting cages located on the Maple Ave side of the property, directly opposite where they were before and closer to the fire station, yet Mr. Tilley again asserted the batting cages “would be 650 feet from the homes behind the fire station.”  It is not mathmatically possible for that, and it shows their lack of truth in their statements. If you attended the meetings, I hope you noted the lack of and the unprofessional presentation by Tilley Entertainment (schematics that were on display at front of room).  There has been little if any money spent on surveying or planning by Tilley and it is just another indication that a theme park being built there is not what will be built. 

Fact: It keeps being asserted that affordable housing is for our "workforce", specifically teachers, police, and service workers.  A kindergarten teacher spoke at the meeting, expressing her inability to afford Purcellville. A teacher's starting salary is over $45K.  A single teacher would not qualify for any reduction in rent or be eligible to take advantage of the section-8 voucher unless she was a single mom with three kids. A single mom with kids may be better served by the opportunity to buy an ADU (affordable dwelling unit) home, such as the 123 ADU townhouses to be built in Mayfair. There are many teachers and Loudoun Sheriffs officers who live in my neighborhood. Many are two income households and it is a choice if they wish to live in a larger, newer home that cost more.  No one denies there is need for affordable housing in Loudoun, but studies show time and again that adding low-income housing often depresses wages.  We need to focus on raising incomes and bringing in quality jobs, not just service level minimum-wage jobs at franchises and chain stores that in the end do little to bring in the revenue that is promised since the government assistance to them is often nearly cancelled out by any tax revenue generated by the business. 

Commissioners Comments at Public Hearing 2/20/14
My Notes as to what each commissioner said or what took place that evening is in red.
My Comments are in italics below each commissioner

Mr. McCullum announced that the Planning Commission had received 8 emails in favor of Catoctin Creek Towne Center. 

As expected, there was no mention of how many they have received against the development.  It seems likely that most communication regarding comments would be directed to the Town Council, therefore the mention of these 8 emails is intentionally misleading.

Mr. Paciulli

  •  Concerned about protection of the stream and how the 100ft setback should be maintained and a proper setback for preservation.  
  • With a 1.95 per person typical occupancy, he felt that based on these projections, the parking spaces proposed was in excess of what is needed. 

The concept plan indicates that they propose less than 100ft buffer to Catoctin Creek as well as all other buffers surrounding the property. The maximum occupancy per unit is 2 people per bedroom, which reveals that the residents will be more than stated occupancy predictions of 1.9 persons per unit, so the high number of parking is based on their hidden knowledge of higher occupancy. 

Mrs. Bowman:

  •  Hard to make a decision or comments. Would like to read the petition and will defer her comments. 

Mr. Packard

  • Mention the training commissioners go through to understand land use. 
  • Acknowledged that this rezoning is a substantial change for the community and the town needs to consider the long-term effects. 
  • Mentioned this area was already zoned for indoors recreational, but asked if we want to rezone it; what is the penalty/benefits. 
  • We should be asking Lovettsville, Round Hill, and other surrounding towns whether they are adding more of this type of housing. Why are we adding this to our area if other surrounding communities are not?
  •  Said “Pork attached to bill” describing the entertainment portion being added to increase the commercial nature of the project.
  •  Asked where kids after college will live after coming back here to live.

Rezoning Requests:
Stupar Property: 20.43 Acres from CM-1 to PDH-15 & MC 
Mercke Property: 12 acres from C-1  to MC

C-1 zoning that usually has size restrictions, generally intended for planned office parks, offices, similar business buildings, and limited office support services.

CM-1 district designation providing for a variety of local and farm service industrial operations, including repair shop, building supplies, open or closed storage, and limited manufacturing.  

MC (Mixed-Commercial) zoning is generally intended for larger arterial strip commercial development and shopping centers that offer a wide range of commercial uses that serve a broad market area. These commercial uses typically have larger space and high use areas.

MC zoning designation means that a landowner has the right to ‘choose’ a specific use, such as either Commercial or Residential. While the zoning district has a mix of uses, the implementation can be single-use (up to the developer). This may explain the inclusion the 486 units listed as the maximum permitted density (picture shown earlier).   

With regards to where our kids will live “after they come home”: New college graduates often seek a more urban life.  Many of us chose Purcellville to raise our families, yet we started our careers while living far inside the Beltway and in more urban areas where work, play, and living were very closely connected.  It is statistically impossible to expect all children raised here to return to live and work in Purcellville, therefore this reasoning lacks the weight they keep asserting. Demographically, many families are choosing to return to more urban neighborhoods and forgoing the long commutes in favor of living closer to work. 

Mr. Paist:  

  • Concern about traffic and overall traffic throughout town.   
  • Special events need to be targeted and reviewed and analyzed. 
  • Would like to see noise levels venue by venue. What will be the noise emanating from here? 
  •  Concern about employment being seasonal.
  • Would like more info on Tiley and viability to truly build. 
  • Said his daughter lives in Leesburg and can’t afford to live in Purcellville. 
  • Mentioned that youth have nowhere to go. Would like to know what the public wants to go there, what kind of entertainment?
A Survey was mentioned during the course of the evening that was taken of the students at Loudoun Valley High School several years ago. It is claimed that students indicated a wish for “more things to do.” One suggestion was a bowling alley.  Well, my daughter wants a pony, but I won’t be getting her one.  Yes, our town now has more kids than at any other time, but families that moved here knew what Purcellville had to offer.   One speaker last night noted, “Children have no financial interest.” Not to say that their input has no value, but high school students and most of our children are not tax-paying adults and these decisions do not affect them financially.  If a business that caters to children wishes to open in Purcellville and it fits within the character of the town, then we welcome it.  Several years ago, the town turned away a “Pump It Up” type business; this property would be a common sense location for it (and is zoned for it).   Another speaker rightfully pointed out the many natural recreation sources Western Loudoun offers; Franklin Park, Fireman’s Field, Shenandoah River, Bears Den/hiking, and W&OD Bike Trail.   Has it ever occurred to our town leaders that we chose to live here for the laid back and natural lifestyle?  Do they remember why they moved here?

Mr. Beese: 

  • Mentioned that the comprehensive plan is a vision that is constantly changing. 
  • Residential is carrying the largest tax burden.  We met that goal and it didn’t change much. Need businesses to carry more of the tax burden. 
  • There are no parks in Purcellville. The school grounds are filled with soccer and lacrosse teams every weekend.  
  • Said he has mixed feeling about the project.  
  • Would like to see the developer be more flexible.
  • Purcellville is historically the commercial hub of Loudoun Valley and felt that we draw more people here than a place like South Riding.  
  • Moved here 15 years ago, he lives on Main Street, the traffic noise on main his high.  
  • There are bands and such at Country Club, does that mean we should shut CC down?

Mr. Priscilla:

  • We are considering this application because law requires us to.  
  • Addressed the question about what happens if they change their minds about what to put there? He said if it were proffered as such, they would have to build it. 
  • With regards to the traffic study, the town has used their own consultants. 
  •  Mentioned he is a 25year resident, didn’t buy a new home in a new subdivision and then complain about new development.  
  • Indicated that a lot of land in Purcellville has been zoned commercially for 50 years.  
  • Based on schools they would attend, there is a capacity of 425 additional students and the proposed apartments are projected to only generate 49 students.

I am not quite sure what Mr. Priscilla means by his assertion that “the proffer restricts the building.”  Will seek more clarification on that, but the proffer is the monetary contribution by the development towards traffic mitigation. 

Focusing solely on the students generated by the apartments is shortsighted at best.  
Woodgrove High School is listed as the designated High School.  With Loudoun Valley High School within walking distance, it would be cost effective to add students that don't require bus service and therefore attend a school within walking distance. 
On the first day of school (2013-2014 year), the Maple Ave Apartment's middle school (Blue Ridge) bus stop had what appeared to be 12 kids (picture below).

Based on the size of the Maple Ave apartments (60 units) and LCPS metrics for student population predictions, it is plausible that the actual students added will be 2.9 times the estimates. With the other developments to be built or being built, instead of the 251.62 students added, it will be 754.86.  This far exceeds the 425 slots currently available.    

More than half the population of Purcellville moved here in the last decade.  No one is suggesting we close the gates now that we are here.  We are simply asking that we try and retain that which attracted us all here and the means to do that is through slow and mindful development.   If you live in Ashburn, you knew it was a massive planned community.  If you live in Reston, you knew it was a massive planned community.  The Comprehensive Plan for Purcellville has given everyone who chose to live here a sense of solace that this town could not or would not grow exponentially in the manner it has and seems on track to continue. Constant rezoning and annexation have given residents cause for concern and many of us feel we were sold a false bill of goods. 

Mr. McCullum: 

  • Expressed concern about the density.  
  • Mentioned that Purcellville is passed the 2025 population projections and close to the 2040 population estimated growth. 
  •  Concerned about moving the “log jam” of cars from Hirst to Berlin Pike. 
  • Stated he lives roughly 200 yards from Fireman’s Field and he hears bats being hit all the time.  
  • With regards to affordable housing, the studies quoted by the developers regarding the need for such housing addresses the D.C. Metropolitan areas and Loudoun as a whole, but do not address the need directly in Purcellville.

If we had adhered to our Comprehensive Plan, does it seem plausible that we would be at or near estimated population figures?  Instead our population growth has outpaced our infrastructure growth. Our roads are beyond inadequate to continue on this course. Our population of children has grown, yet Purcellville has added few options in terms of public recreational parks that include swings, slides, and wholesome outdoor play (the few true parks available are not owned/maintained by the town).  We have a bloated water/sewer system that cost millions of dollars; money spent without the “customer” base to support it, which created an undue cost burden to existing customers setting up a situation where the only way to lower the cost burden is to add more customers or continue to increase our rates by double digits year after year (as has been the case since the new water/sewer system came on line).  

In addition to residents, restaurants operating in Purcellville pay more than twice as much for water than if they operated in Leesburg. Owning and operating a restaurant here is made difficult by this unjust cost burden.  This may be part of the reason for so much turnover in the restaurant industry here and the reason why so many residents complain of there not being enough good places to eat, they simply can not afford to operate a business with enough profit. Read more about the high cost of water and how it applies to one of our finest restaurants in town, Magnolias compared to Leesburg. (comments start on page 3)

I hear a lot of blame placed on “newcomers" and that these new residents caused these problems from our town leaders. Very few residents can claim to not be a newcomer and many of our leaders fit the profile themselves.   If the property was not rezoned and a house was not built, there would be no new family to move in. Who made that house possible?  Sure, there is demand, but in the end, rezoning and permitting allows the population increase.  All new residents moved here because a house was built. People moved where they sensed there was affordability, affable surroundings, and an available place to move into.  

What is done is done, what we need to do is focus on how to make this work.  Spending millions to reconstruct sidewalks on 21st Street, when many business owners there fear the negative side-effects of the long-term construction directly in front of their businesses, is not prudent. Some funds for this sidewalk project were re-directed from a traffic improvement fund for Main/Maple Ave. Many would argue that traffic mitigation is more important than pretty sidewalks on 21st Street right now. $8 Million has been spent to buy and rehabilitate a church (that the county inspector advised against) to convert into a Town Hall, which to many of us is viewed as ill conceived and fiscally irresponsible.  Increasing a water system that was operating at less than 50% capacity and now continues to operate at less than 40% capacity is fiscally irresponsible.  

The priorities of the town council and that which exists in our community seem quite at odds.  

Council Decided to defer action and will reconvene on March 6th and deliver a decision. 

Thanks for taking the time to read and learn.  Visit PurcellvilleApartments to get updates and info.