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A Citizen-Directed Future for Western Loudoun?– What It Will Take

January 8, 2014 by Andrea Gaines filed under Columns, View From the Ridge No Comments

The Blue Ridge Leader’s View From The Ridge feature was introduced in 1984.?This feature is intended to present to the public our big picture assessment of what is going on in our western Loudoun community – an independent and spirited assessment, free of the special interests that seek to control the day. As we begin 2014, we recommit ourselves to being that independent voice for you.

Why Is An Independent Voice So Important To Western Loudoun?

All communities, even small ones, have centers of power. As the people run their businesses and live their lives, it’s up to government, even if it is a small town council or county board of supervisors, to make sure everyone’s getting a fair shake. And, it’s up to the news media to make sure government is doing its job and conducting its business out in the open, while providing citizens a microphone with which to express their views.

This is critical in a fast growing community such as western Loudoun where hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in land deals, residential and commercial development and political favors. And, it is absolutely urgent in a political atmosphere where town councils and boards of supervisors seem more interested in greasing the skids for developers than in serving the public.

The good news is that western Loudoun has not yet been overrun by development. The challenge is that developers have their sights set on western Loudoun, and, without an engaged and educated public, really bad things can happen.

Western Loudoun’s Growth Patterns – Environmentally Destructive and Fiscally Foolish

Great small towns such as Purcellville can continue to be successful and distinctive towns, but only if the people in charge of running things serve and work for everyone, managing growth in a way that preserves the essence of why people came here to live in the first place. Just because you can make more money putting an apartment complex on a piece of property instead of developing it into larger lots at a lower density, doesn’t mean you should have a right to do so.?This balance between the money to be made and what residents want is under significant threat today.

The annexation project known as Autumn Hill/Mayfair is the largest in the history of the town. Enormous in scale, this development will carpet bomb a now rural/large lot residential area just north of town with high-density residential development. Purcellville will get the benefit of approximately $12 million in utility hookups … but taxpayers and neighbors will pay dearly. Each of the new homes will cost the town and county taxpayer $1.70 in government services for every $1 they return in property taxes. And, the property owners next to Autumn Hill/Mayfair will see their rural way of life lost to high-density residential and commercial development as close as 25 ft. from their property line.

The Catoctin Town Center – originally Catoctin Creek Apartments – is a huge residential and entertainment complex within town boundaries which will bring another 178 residential units into Purcellville. Citizens spoke out strongly when Catoctin Creek Apartments was proposed. In response, the developer got together with nearby property owners/investors and the whole thing was cleverly “repackaged” into an retail/residential/entertainment project, to include bumper cars, go carts, a water park, a flea market and music venue and more fast food and drive-through restaurants.

Vineyard Square is a gigantic five-six-story retail/residential project that will dwarf Purcellville’s historic downtown area. As proposed by the developer, this project will require the demolition of structures that are on National Register of Historic Places. The Purcellville Town Council is on the side of the developer’s project, which will degrade the area’s history, possibly threaten the area’s historic designation and leave businesses in the area wondering if they will survive the changes proposed for the area.

Greasing the Skids for Development 

At a recent hearing on the Autumn Hill/Mayfair annexation, one impassioned citizen who opposed annexation said: “This is not about one person’s property,” expressing frustration that the county and the Town of Purcellville seemed unconcerned about how approving a project of this size would affect adjacent homeowners.

The source of this citizen’s frustration is the game playing – an increasingly rushed, insider, not-always-fact based way major development projects are moving forward in western Loudoun County.

One such game is “the false dilemma.” With respect to Autumn Hill/Mayfair, in a long and tortured path the Town of Purcellville had twice before rejected the developer’s application to have this property annexed into town and developed with high-density residential. When the developer later sued to go forward, reversing course, Purcellville – and the Blue Ridge Supervisor – lobbied the county board of supervisors to settle the lawsuit, saying that going to court would put the area at risk for more intense development. But this was a false dilemma, a game. The developer’s septic permit had expired prior to the scheduled court date, and it could not have been renewed because the developer did not have and could not have gotten an active building permit.

With respect to the Catoctin Creek Town Center/Apartment Complex, facing significant opposition to the project as originally proposed, the developer combined its effort with adjacent property owners, renaming the project “The Catoctin Town Center.” This kind of bait and switch or “repackaging” is routine in Purcellville and county zoning politics. But it can’t hide the fact that both the apartments and the other parts of the project are inappropriate for the area.

“Sorry … it’s out of our hands.” With respect to Vineyard Square, the Purcellville Town Council has been working with the individuals who own the properties for years. Town-secured grants (taxpayer-funded) will help pay for some of the infrastructure needed, due to the enormous size of the project. And, while the area is extremely important from an historic perspective (on the National Register of Historic Places) the council has been absolutely silent, sitting on it’s hands for years instead of simply limiting density and/or making changes to the zoning regulations that could have protected the area. Sorry … nothing we can do?”

About a week ago, Thursday evening January 2, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave the go ahead on Autumn Hill/Mayfair. This was the night of the area’s terrible snowstorm. A public input session was held that night, but prior to that public input session, impatient, Chairman York called for a vote indicating that the issue needed to be “settled”, and the project was approved. Meanwhile, the citizens who braved the weather were able to express their opinions on Autumn Hill/Mayfair … but only after the board had “settled the issue”. Wow.

Happy New Year … Stay Vigilant.

We wish all of western Loudoun a Happy New Year. We promise to keep you informed of the games that are played and what’s at stake for the community we love. We thank you for your input – whatever it may be. And, we cherish continuing to serve as your independent voice.

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