On a beautiful spring day like today – or on any of the beautiful days we’ve experienced here in western Loudoun County lately – it’s hard to imagine that one morning you might wake up and wish things were different.
The sun is out and the weekend is here. You’ve got lots of errands to run but that’s OK. You’ll hit more traffic than you are used to if you head into Purcellville or Leesburg, or Tyson’s Corner, but you’ll put up with it. Once back home, maybe you’ll do a little gardening, take your kids to practice and then take a walk around the neighborhood, or maybe you’ll head out to a winery or a local farm to enjoy what the still rural aspects of our area have to offer.
Yes, it’s pretty nice living here in western Loudoun County. And, although everyone knows big changes are afoot, you don’t get the sense those changes will one day shock you.
But flash forward a year or two, or three, to Saturday, April 27, 2014 … or 2015 … or 2016 and imagine this scenario.
Your favorite old farm, the one trying to continue operations despite the road that was going through it, finally gave up and closed. Your favorite old time hardware is closed down, too – seemingly benign changes to the old downtown made it too difficult for their suppliers to get in and out of their loading dock. The woods that your yard backs up to got replaced. And, not just by another subdivision, but a huge apartment complex. The “back way,” that gravel road you’d take to avoid the more congested commuting routes has been made wider and is now paved; no longer a road that blends into its rural surroundings, it’s now just something that gets you from Point A to Point B. Looking out toward the west one night, instead of rolling hills and rooftops and the occasional horse farm, you see a big parking lot full of cars.
As we all enjoy our beautiful western Loudoun community today, new development projects in the works, new roads, and changes to how zoning decisions are made and government interacts with its citizenry are acting against the vision that is our rural and small town, quiet village way of life.
This includes the proposed 176-unit Catoctin Creek Apartments complex in Purcellville; changes to the town’s comprehensive and zoning plans; elimination of the special exception process, resulting in less public input on big box stores and other zoning changes; the Catoctin Corner commercial development that will add more drive-thrus and commercial strips near the entrance to Purcellville; the new hotel (or retail/condos) and parking complex planned for downtown Purcellville, and the plan to widen and level out this historic area’s sidewalks … all in the name of a new “Tourist District.”
And, then, for people in Purcellville and the communities within the town’s sphere of influence – including the towns of Hamilton and Round Hill and the villages of Lincoln, Philomont and Paeonion Springs, Waterford and others – will we see the open space buffers that now separate them from Purcellville shrink to the point where you don’t have a sense of being in a distinct community at all, and western Loudoun looks more like a Leesburg or an Ashburn? (Nice places to live, but not necessarily what you had in mind when you came here or chose to stay as a long term resident of the area.)
As newer residents and as long time residents, as we enjoy what we came here for and stayed here for, it’s important to remind ourselves that there are good forces of change and bad forces of change.
High-density development without regard to the quality of life of those around that development is not inevitable, unless we decide it should be.
Excessive new commercial development that enriches big national chains at the expense of smaller downtown businesses is the way most communities are going these days, but it doesn’t have to be the way western Loudoun goes.
Our agricultural heritage – and the local economic engine it represents – can be ours to cultivate and keep, if that’s what we want. (A Purcellville planning commissioner recently said that he couldn’t see a farm in town … is that how you feel?)
We elect our public officials to reflect what we want … and we should hold them to task.
We should be able to wake up on April 27, 2016, and know that, while we saw lots of change in western Loudoun, it matched our vision for where we wanted to live and what we came and stayed here for.