By Valerie Cury
Update: Town Council Meeting March 11: Developer Representative withdrew application for Catoctin Creek Town Center. There will be no public hearing March 12.
“I hate to be the one to break the bad news to some people, but Purcellville is not a small town. It’s not a quaint town anymore,” said Mark Fontaine, who spoke at the Purcellville Planning Commission public hearing in late February for the Catoctin Creek Town Center development. Fontaine, who represents the buyers and the sellers for the town center development, was one of nearly a dozen supporters who came forward to support the project.
The developers of the Catoctin Creek Town Center, in separate applications, seek to rezone approximately 33 acres along Hirst Road and Maple Avenue. The proposal includes a 176-unit apartment complex (Catoctin Creek Apartments) on 13.72 acres and an entertainment complex on 18.71 acres with outdoor space for concerts and events. The proposal includes bumper boats, mimiature golf, go-karts and bumper cars. The approximately 30,000 square foot two story main building will include a sports bar, a restaurant, laser tag, and a game arcade, to name a few.
Former Purcellville Mayor Eric Zimmerman who represents the seller of the property said that Catoctin Creek Apartments is not “low income housing.” However, the proposed apartment complex is for a 176 “Qualified Low-Income Housing Project,” according to the Extended Use Agreement filled out by the developer. The application fits under a “Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.”
A tax credit project is a privately owned apartment complex that is financed through federal guaranteed mortgage funds. In exchange for these low interest loans, the property owner must furnish apartments for those who are considered low income, either through some programs of the USDA, the section 8 voucher program, or any other program administered by the property owner. The rental units are meant to serve households with incomes at or below 60 percent of median incomes in the local community. More than 40 percent of low-income housing tax credit occupants earn 30 percent or less of the area median income.
Other supporters of the Catoctin Creek Town Center were either land owners and their extended families or friends of various representatives of the project.
Purcellville town resident and candidate for mayor, Kwasi Fraser said, “Well, I have had the opportunity to review the proposal and presentation of this development in great detail, and it seems to be missing a key element and that is the voice of the citizens of Purcellville. In addition, I have several questions about the size and scope of this project and how it conflicts with the character of the Town of Purcellville and the surrounding area.”
Fraser continued, “First to the voice of the citizens of Purcellville, over the past six weeks I have knocked on over 150 doors and the vast majority of our citizens oppose this development.” He said he has heard comments that this is like “Coney Island Astroland Park comes to Purcellville without Brighton Beach.” Another resident asked Fraser “why not place a mini data center or technology job incubator at the location to bring some high paying jobs to Purcellville.” “Here we go again being sold a dream to live a nightmare,” said another resident to Fraser. His comments received the loudest ovation of the evening.
Citizen Jennifer Alvarez said, “I love Purcellville and I want to keep it a small town and keep the values we have now and the environment we have now. How many more visitors do we need?” Another speaker said that the [current] business park is a good neighbor and urged the commission to keep the current zoning. Judith Theiman said there would be traffic in town late into the night with the proposed entertainment complex. “A lot of residents moved here for the quiet and beauty of western Loudoun. I moved here for Purcellville. This is not right for Purcellville.”
Purcellville resident Karen Jimmerson, who is running for the Purcellville Town Council, said she chose to live in Purcellville not Leesburg or Ashburn. “You have 168 tax credit apartments in South Riding [117 children] and there are 24,000 people living in South Riding. Do the math. “We have 194 tax credit apartments in Purcellville and we have 8,000 residents.” Jimmerson also pointed out that Bowman did the traffic study, and that the company is also hired by the developers. “We need an independent traffic study done,” said Jimmerson.
Maura Walsh Copeland said that she has read 15 planning documents on the town website – all 625 pages. “I did not find any citizen requests for any entertainment venues. I did find a request for Purcellville to maintain a small town feel.” Kelli Grim said that she is opposed to poor planning. “I don’t hear the voice of the people being heard. Residents inside the town matter, we matter.”
HOA Catoctin Meadows president Daniel Shaughnessy pointed out that the project is not consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. He said the entertainment center was not an appropriate commercial activity and he doubted the project would be sustainable. He also said that he had not seen studies to verify the need for the facility.
Attorney and developer Mark Nelis said that the by right zoning (current zoning) would not be the highest and best use of the property – light industrial is not the best use of the property. “The town asked us to bring them something unique and I think we have met that goal.” He also pointed out that the property is zoned for light industrial and offices, and the millennium generation doesn’t seem to want offices. “We can’t grow commercially without providing work force housing.”
Bill Tilley of Tilley’s Entertainment said he is planning one two-story 30,000 square foot. building. He said, “You are looking to bring business here right now. You are fairly limited [now], it’s mostly food and drink. We have an opportunity here to pull in demographics to the area, families something we all want to see working with this. We had a chance to meet with several of the wineries in the last few weeks. One of the things we want to do is offer packages with the wineries where basically they can bring the kids here – drop them off. Let’s say they have a birthday party – we will supervise the kids, they could bring the kids here and the kids could stay here while their parents go visit the wineries. It will be easier for them [parents] to enjoy what they are doing.”
The Purcellville Planning Commission will vote on the proposed Catoctin Creek Town Center at their March 6 meeting, 7:00 p.m. at the town hall.