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.