By Karen Jimmerson
The developers behind the Catoctin Creek Apartments have forged ahead, applying for and being approved for housing tax credits through the Virginia Housing and Development Authority (VHDA). The developer is asking the town of Purcellville to change the zoning of a 13.7-acre portion of the 20-acre site on Hirst Road from Commerical-1 to Planned Development Housing -15 to provide for the construction of a 176-unit affordable apartment project. They are also asking for a Comprehensive Plan amendment.
An application of this kind typically includes a letter of input from the municipality and is requested to illuminate “local needs and support.” The town of Purcellville did not provide the typical input, whether pro or con. For example, a Nov. 20, 2012, report from the Purcellville Board of Architectural Review could have been submitted, as well as the Planning Commission staff report, a 96-page summary critical of the development. The developer’s VHDA application was submitted in March without input from the town, a move interpreted by some as tacit support.
When first approached to comment on the Catoctin Creek Development, Purcellville Mayor Bob Lazaro stated it would be “arbitrary and capricious” to make any comments. Other council members have taken similar stances. Meanwhile, Mayor Kristin Umstattd in Leesburg held no reservation about a similar proposal for the Leegate Development, stating that as it is now “she would likely vote against it.”
The VDHA application contained inaccurate and misleading information. As part of the application, MGMiller Valuations conducted a market study. The report states that the apartments will be located in the “central portion of the county,” but according to all available information, Purcellville lies in western Loudoun County, approximately 9 miles west of the county seat of Leesburg and even further from the employment hubs of eastern Loudoun and Fairfax.
Transportation is an important component of low-income tax-credit residences and the application states “this proposal seeks to qualify for points associated with proximity to public transportation.” An earlier December 2012 traffic study released by Bowman Consulting shows that two regional bus services serve this area and that the bus stops for them are 1.25 and 1.75 miles from the development, which means that it is, according to their own report, “unlikely that a significant portion of trips would be made exclusively via transit.” In contrast, the current VHDA application contained a surveyor’s certificate of proximity to transportation from Bowman Consulting, which certified that the nearest access point to an existing public bus stop is one-quarter mile from the development.
The MGMiller market study indicates that the landlord (Catoctin Creek Apartments) will pay for water and sewer, which contradicts the VHDA application which states that: “water expense is sub-metered/tenant will pay monthly or bi-monthly.” This is an important distinction that may affect town revenue and the approval process through VHDA.
The dialogue from the town council with regards to water/sewer issues seems to provide cover as an argument against development. However, according to the town’s 2014 budget proposal, the town “will have to rely on creative revenue options and increased business opportunities from residential growth in western Loudoun to allow us to continue to see a positive expansion in our overall revenue source.” Before the utility system was upgraded it was operating at 40 percent, and upgrades to the system were mandated for sewer improvements, not for increasing capacity. The justification for increased capacity came after Purcellville suffered through several droughts, and to meet the town’s long-term needs it now requires new “water customers” to pay for a bloated system that has caused water/sewer rates to increase yearly. The burden on existing residents is enormous, with rates rising 8 percent for water and 15 percent for sewer this year.
Meanwhile within the public sphere, Mayor Lazaro recently expressed concerns about water supplies with regards to the proposed Autumn Hill Development (492 quadruplexes). And, who could forget the legal wrangling with regards to Woodgrove High School. The Purcellville Town Council held firm in their opposition arguing that the high school would strain the town’s roads and utility system. All this is done as 61 townhouses are currently being built on 21st Street and developers are proposing an adult community with 50 townhouses on S. 32nd Street.
According to the Planning Commission, the Catoctin Creek Apartments do not conform to the overall goals of the Comprehensive Plan. Changing the land use from commercial to residential will not advance the town’s goal of achieving a 30/70 percent revenue mix. The town’s housing policy calls for a balance between residential and commercial development. The developer cites a George Mason University regional study (2011) that Loudoun needs more affordable housing. However they neglect to provide any statistics on that need in Purcellville specifically, a town that currently has the highest ratio of tax-credit apartments in Loudoun. The most recent county forecasts confirm, “The supply of multi-family housing units, both existing and planned, will meet demand through 2037.” The Planning Commission report noted that “allowing additional multi-family dwelling units in an area of the county where they are not anticipated could oversaturate the market and impact the viability of already approved developments.”
With 176 units there is a potential for an additional 540 residents in the community based on occupancy per unit. This is also based on the 2010 Census figures of 3.07 persons per household in Purcellville, increasing the town’s population roughly 6 percent when the traffic study indicates the town will have only 2 percent growth per year. The applicant however, estimates that there will be approximately 310 residents based on numbers gathered from similar projects.
The developer, as well as the Loudoun County school system, contends that the number of units that will serve families with children is 37, which is 21 percent of the units, and the exact number of three bedroom units. The implication is that children will only reside in three bedroom units, even though according to the VDHA application families with children will be given priority and there is no restriction on the number of children living within any unit.
A recent inquiry call to a S.L. Nausbaum property (Catoctin Creek Apartment developer) indicates that their properties house “a lot of children.” When asked if more apartments would be built in Loudoun County, the response was a resounding, “Yes, it is a definite” that S. L Nausbaum would be building in Purcellville.
Hundreds of residents opposed to the Catoctin Creek Apartments have signed an online petition. One resident summed it up by saying; “This project is too big for Purcellville. We want to see growth here, but it’s got to be smart growth.”
The project is expected to go to the planning commission for a public hearing, and then the town council for a vote sometime this year.