Our evening started off with Boy Scout Troop 743 leading our meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The Troop stayed to watch the proceedings as they seek to gain a merit badge based on civic engagement. As everyone recited the pledge, it brought me great joy and pride hearing the many voices filling our Town Hall and seeing the process of government being open to all who came to take part.
The council chambers were quite full last night as speakers came to give their comments on items on our agenda.
First up was Chuck Izzo, owner and operator of Appalachian Outdoor Readiness & Essentials who gave a presentation on how the Town could benefit by becoming an Appalachian Trail Community.™ The program is designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Towns, counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by all that use the A.T. and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T. Participation has no economic cost to the town but could provide many great returns for increased tax revenue with an increase in visitors.
Friends of the Watershed made a presentation about their desire to open the 1,200 acres of Town property surrounding the reservoir to outdoor recreation. Many residents and supporters spoke in support and the owners who abut the watershed property spoke in opposition. It is clear that the group does not wish to create hardship for the surrounding property owners and ultimately this is about opening a constructive dialogue and working with every stakeholder to come to a consensus everyone can be happy with. The pros and the cons will be balanced and hopefully a workable solution can be reached in the future.
Last night our Council Meeting included an item on our agenda that caused me enormous concern. We were tasked with deciding whether to approve a text amendment to add a zoning use back into the CM-1 district, which would allow the Valley Energy propane company located on Hirst Road to expand their business by bringing their use back into conformance. Every member of council expressed their desire to allow Valley Energy the opportunity to expand, however myself and the mayor believed that a different route should be sought in order to adhere to the comprehensive plan and preserve the integrity of the town and its zoning. Here are my council comments that I read during my speaking time.
The purpose of my substitute motion was to change the zoning in the CM-1 district where Valley Energy is located since this location is more suitable for M-1 uses and ultimately my wish was to combine or collapse the district to bring all current uses into conformity if that zoning was to take any business out of conformity (which was a concern that Councilmember Lehr expressed). Essentially it was an attempt to accomplish the same thing for Valley Energy but without changing the zoning in areas where it is clearly not a desirable use to have a large propane/petroleum distribution center on Hirst Rd east of Hatcher or Maple Ave. Several council members argued that safety was no real concern indicating that the safety rate is quite high. I feel that the worst case scenario should be considered since this involves a highly explosive gas and and allowing this use so close to residential homes is against the plan's directive "to minimize serious adverse effect within or beyond the limits of the district." From the discussion, which can be listened to on the Town's Website, it became clear that our Comprehensive plan lacks clear definition which explains why several interpreted the text amendment to be contrary to our Comprehensive Plan while others did not.
Valley Energy stated at the March 10th Public Hearing that their operation fuels over 3,500 vehicles a month; primarily commercial vehicles/trucks (which, in my opinion likely does not include the larger propane trucks that re-fuel there for home delivery and the even larger tankers that bring fuel to the facility). This would add even more traffic through our small town if expanded. Agreeing to a zoning which will allow an increase in the business without any economic offset to the town or traffic impact study means town taxpayers will be burdened with the cost of road repairs. Heavy trucks damage roads much more than an average car; road damage from one 18-wheeler is equivalent to 9600 cars. The average gross vehicle weight of a midsize car is 3,400 lbs. Listed below you will see Virginia's weight restrictions on hauling flammable liquids. The average propane tank truck has a low gross vehicle weight of 33,000 lbs with an empty tank but can be quite large.
Since this text application incurred no cost to the applicant, the taxpayers instead pay in the form of the many staff hours that are needed to procure and process this application and advertise it for public hearing (and of course the repairs to our roads). If it comes to pass that the applicant does not expand but instead sells their business to a competing gas company simply because this zoning increases his value, the town can then only hope to benefit if the company eventually expands and this wasn't done merely to turn a profit and increase the return on investment that many developers have used to justify their zoning requests in the past.
The previous zoning code that was deleted in 2008 included an 80,000 above ground storage limit and the new amendment has no such restriction. Valley Energy currently has two 30,000 gallon tanks and they wish to add another one, giving them 90,000 gallons in above ground storage. In my opinion that was a major shortcoming and needs to be rectified by this town council immediately. Taking action to put in reasonable restrictions that protect public health and the integrity of our zoning should not be controversial.
With regards to the Directive for Zoning Use Changes, I inquired about whether all previous actions that have taken place thus far by the Planning Commission could be considered corrupted on the basis that there was never any motion made by the Town Council or the Planning Commission to initiate this direction. Our legal council indicated that it did not. With that said, I have grave concern about the veracity of claims by planing commissioners that no zoning use changes are taking place with regards to the work they are doing. I support eliminating uses no longer applicable in town, those that conflict with the comprehensive plan or that are duplicative in nature. I voted to support the continued work so that all work thus far is not wasted or in vain, but I believe that zoning use changes being implemented before a thorough comprehensive plan review is premature and should not be put forth.
It is inappropriate for business and land owners to ask the town at our meetings to include zoning that directly benefits them with no cost or impact that eliminates the town's ability to collect proffers. Hearing discussions in planning meetings about creating floating PDH districts that would allow mixed use zoning by-right while developers are coming before the town with plans reflecting those wishes is outrageous and deserves much scrutiny. The proposed Zoning Uses Draft Review changes are beyond the pale in terms of proposing outright zoning changes that would severely impact this town and would strip the public of public input, in many cases, if these uses were approved. The planning commission's recommendations will be sent to the Town Council and we can chose to take action or not, however these developers count on the public not paying attention and by the time it reaches a public hearing I fear the brakes are all but near impossible to put on. Unless residents become more engaged and involved, these developers will seek to continually circumvent a system that was designed to protect the average citizen.
Purcellville is $60 Million dollars in debt. Our per capita debt is higher than some cities that have declared bankruptcy. If we continue on this course of giving everything away for free while taxpayers are left to pick up the bill, we will cease to exist. Some have declared that if we don't grow we die. Clearly growth doesn't equate to economic gain considering the enormous growth that Purcellville had and our current debt. Reckless decisions have costly consequences.
Given everything that has been said so far in the press and beyond about myself and Mayor Fraser, it is obvious that discrediting attacks, whatever their motive, generally take place under heavy disguise.
It is important to look at what others claim they are doing verses what they are really doing. It seems that the two meet a lot less often than one might think.
As I have said before, I will always try and prove in a clear, logical manner my motives and point of view. There are those who create distractions from the main points. They merely finger point to make sure the finger doesn't point back to them.