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.