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Purcellville’s Broken Heart

February 5, 2014 by Andrea Gaines filed under Columns, View From the Ridge 9 Comments
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It is both interesting and so disheartening to read Wikipedia’s description of the place known as Purcellville.

It describes how in 1764 the town’s first known settler, James Dillon made his way here from Buck’s County, Pa. How an “early ox cart track” stretching west from Leesburg toward the Blue Ridge Mountains served as “the nucleus” of the town. How the first recorded business – “a combined store and inn” – arrived in 1799, followed by Purcel’s Store and Post Office, the town’s first stagecoach delivery (1841), a blacksmith’s shop (1848), and the first public school (1883). And, how on March 14, 1908, the town was incorporated by an act of the Virginia General Assembly.

The language on Purcellville’s official website pays homage to this fascinating and extraordinary history – describing the place as an award-winning town known for its green initiatives, flanked by the historic W&OD Trail and proud of its “historic old-town feel.” “Everybody’s Home Town” so the saying goes. And note, says the website, the town’s restoration and maintenance of its many downtown structures … and how Purcellville is a popular weekend destination for antiquing, entertainment, farmer’s markets and wineries …

Indeed, Purcellville – at least from the outside looking in – is a model for preservation. Its Downtown Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. The equivalent of royalty in preservation circles, the district boasts an incredible 498 contributing buildings and structures. The Purcellville Train Station, Locust Grove farm house, Rich Bottom farm, and the Tabernacle-Fireman’s Field – historic companions to historic downtown – are also on the National Register. And, Purcellville’s Historic District is also part of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ National Historic Landmarks of Virginia program.

So, how could it be – how could it be – that the Purcellville town council has just taken a vote to compromise all of this history by approving the 100,000+ sq. ft. mixed residential/commercial project known as Vineyard Square in the heart of historic downtown?

The vote – and we could all see it coming – has been winding its way toward this fateful conclusion for months, fuel by the developers’ extreme inflexibility and the town council’s feigned hands-off attitude. But, the excuse pushed by the town council, that the developers “had the zoning” is disingenuous at best. Not only did the town overrule its Board of Architectural Review in voting to approve Vineyard Square, Mayor Bob Lazaro and the council put the zoning in place to allow this as a by right development.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, the Town of Purcellville has had seven long years to use its zoning power to protect historic downtown. But, with ambitious and competing plans for an award-winning downtown tourism district, complete with federal and state taxpayer funded grants and infrastructure … it is clear that the town did not want to take any step to protect historic downtown. It had other plans.

When an area or property achieves National Register status, that status imposes no restrictions on what property owners may do with a designated property. Fair enough. But, you’d think that a town like Purcellville, which has promoted its preservation-friendly reputation for all it is worth and basked in all of that glory, would have had the courage to put its money where its mouth is. “Everybody’s Home Town?” No. “Nobody’s Home Town,” now.

9 comments

  1. David says:

    nuff said: Purcellville will be electing a mayor and three town council members. Candidates need to file a Declaration of Candidacy and a petition with 125 signatures of qualified Purcellville voters.

  2. Karen Jimmerson says:

    It was painfully obvious that the town council went into that session with their decision already made; the public hearing meaningless since all who spoke against (only one friend of the developer spoke in favor) it had their pleas fall on deaf ears.

    Rationalizing that calling this project a monstrosity was “subjective” (Tom Priscilla) and that it was the council’s opinion that it wasn’t was beyond rational thinking. A packed town hall of citizens had the subjective opinion that it was indeed a bad choice.

    Mark Nelis chooses not to live in Purcellvile town limits.
    John Chapman chooses not to live in Purcellville town limits.
    Apparently open space and nature seem to suit their personal tastes.
    Their personal lives and property values see no consequence to development here in town.
    When it lines their pockets, they willing to bulldoze this town, and they are aided and abetted by a council who has been more than willing to quietly change rules and regulations to benefit them.
    Nelis and Chapman claim to care and have a history with Purcellville. But the reality is, neither of them LIVE here. It doesn’t matter who lives here the longest. It doesn’t matter who owns the most land here. it matters that we chose to live here and the reason why we did is being eroded away by those who have no trust vested interest in this town other than what will fill their pocket.

    They bulldoze and profit and the citizens who live here pay the price with increased taxes and heartache. Our Town Council is required to live in Purcellville. It defies logic that they would destroy where they live, or does it?

  3. Publius says:

    Lazaro has faced recall petitions …
    Will a town council changeover fix this mess?
    Can these decisions be unbound?
    Or will they just wait 2 or 5 or 8 more years?
    What other recourse is there?
    I have been here 4 years and would hate to see downtown flattened. Almost seems like an April Fool’s prank or Onion article.

    • David says:

      Last election was decided by a few hundred votes. If memory serves me right- under 1,000 people voted in total. Unseating these people can’t be all that hard when the margins are that close. Last time Kelly Grim, who only started, a few weeks before the election, did well considering a hastily thrown together platform. Lets face it Mr. Fraser has a far better credentials than Ms. Grim and its MONTHS before the elections. WE CAN DO THIS.

      • westLOUDOUNer says:

        2012 Purcellville Election Results:
        4,931 registered voters
        Bob Lazaro was re-elected as Mayor of Purcellville with 560 of 853 votes, despite a strong showing from write-in candidate Kelli Grim. Lazaro got 65% of the vote representing only 11% of registered voters.

  4. Rasputin says:

    Oh will you people get over yourselves. You act like it’s a bloody museum. It will all work out, everything will be fine, step away from the ledge.

    When the “come heres” decide their now “from heres” it’s time to stop all the changes. Get a grip.

    • David says:

      Unless I misunderstood VA law newly arrived residents have the same number of votes than people that have lived here 30 years…wait is that right? Oh good because if that is true I’m using my vote to stop these projects that I..as a tax
      payer..disagree with. Cheers see you in May

  5. Vicky says:

    It is a big deal, when will it stop! I live over on the farm side of Purcellville and moved here from Ashburn because I had enough of the development over there.
    With the wonderful mountain views and all the history here why in the world do we have to build up on 21st street and Hirst Rd. Enough is enough! What is going to happen with all the small business on 21st? Where will they set up shop now? There is a place for everything and big buildings are not what is best for Purcellville.

    If we do not speak up as Purcellville citizens who will?

  6. Andrea Gaines says:

    Thank you for all of your comments. The engagement, however you come down on it is fantastic!

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