For many, the recent town-wide elections in Purcellville present all of western Loudoun with a significant opportunity to launch a more citizen-focused future.
On July 1 there will be a new mayor and a decidedly different balance of power on the Purcellville Town Council, as four new members with fresh policy views join the group.
Growth is here and will continue. But, the question of exactly where that growth will occur, whom it will benefit and who will pay for it now has the opportunity to be answered – out in the open.
This will affect not just land inside the town, but land primed for annexation on its borders and every one of the individual smaller towns, villages and communities that dot the western Loudoun landscape – Lovettsville, Lincoln, Paeonian Springs, Waterford, Hillsboro, Philomont, Middleburg, Saint Louis, Bluemont and Aldie. Purcellville, because of its size, holds the key to what western Loudoun – and all of these precious places – will look like in ten or twenty years.
In major citizen input sessions over the last many, many years the citizens of Purcellville came together and with their government created the town’s Comprehensive Plan. A blueprint of sorts, the plan identifies established residential areas and commercial areas, undeveloped land available for various kinds of uses and the basic rules by which growth and development can occur. The plan provides a measure of surety. A homebuyer, for example, will know what might go in on the undeveloped land adjacent to his or her back yard.
The plan also establishes densities – how much of a particular thing can be accommodated on a particular parcel of land based on its size and how it relates to nearby homes and businesses. And, the plan identifies places and features of special interest and sensitivity to the public or otherwise legally protected – including wetlands and watersheds, historic districts and structures, public lands and facilities.
Purcellville’s new mayor, Kwasi Fraser, has pledged to get back to this basic document known as the comprehensive plan. Review it, change it if need be – based on what the citizens want – but make it the working document that citizens and government use together to direct the area’s future. Put it out there for all to see, and follow it.
The most controversial growth decisions the Town of Purcellville made over the last several years involved planning and zoning decisions that in reality paid lip service to the idea of a comprehensive plan and, outside of that, were a total failure in terms of their attention to the public trust. This includes routine comprehensive plan amendments, zoning amendments and changes to the process which in effect change the essential nature of the plan the public had helped direct. For example, the planning commission is currently addressing the issue of eliminating most “special use permits,” a process in place to provide for public input on things not allowed “by right,” such as drive thrus.
An example of Purcellville not following the Comprehensive Plan was when the town council approved intensive additional commercial at the “gateway” to Purcellville – the over 50,000 square feet mixed use Catoctin Corner development located at the corner of Rt. 7 and Rt. 287 (across from Harris Teeter, now in the pipeline and waiting to be built). Not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, citizens didn’t direct this decision, developers, did.
The Vineyard Square debacle, 100,000 square feet of mixed-use development threatens the very existence of historic downtown Purcellville. Citizens didn’t direct this decision, developers, did.
Catoctin Creek Town Center, a development put on hold but all assume not for long would have brought bumper cars and more candy-style entertainment right into the back yards of peoples’ homes. Citizens protested earnestly, and the developers back off, for now.
Each of these projects fed themselves and moved slowly forward not based on a comprehensive plan or a willing and open partnership between the citizens of Purcellville and the town, but backroom deals negotiated between the town – who gave property owners the zoning they wanted – and developers seeking to maximize their profits.
And, there are new but related schemes bubbling up out there, including a “northern collector” road obsessively intended to service the new Autumn Hill/Mayfair development, but really paving the way for totally unplanned future speculative development, as investors buy up land, promise to build more of the road and push for the zoning of their choice.
This willy-nilly carving up of land serves the developer and land-investor’s needs just fine, but serves nothing close to the public trust and has no connection to the concept of a true comprehensive plan.
There’s a new gang in town. Citizens need to engage with them and support them to turn things around. Isn’t it time?