There’s a popular country western song that tells the story of a young woman who gets swept up in a night of partying and wakes up to find she has a ring on her finger, a new last name and a new husband. Knowing she had been duped but determined to take her future back, she proclaims “Boy you blew it, you put me through it I wanna uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-undo it.”
Many people in Purcellville feel the same way about the 100,000 square foot Vineyard Square mixed-use development project … a project which, once the zoning party got started moved from one excess to another, wedding the citizens and taxpayers of Purcellville to a decidedly unattractive future for their historic downtown.
Although seemingly a done deal, Vineyard Square has faced sustained longstanding opposition by many citizens and local businesses. In addition, because of the massive changes the project would require to 21st Street, the millions of dollars in public utilities infrastructure needed and problems on the developer’s end, it is also proving questionable that, in the end, it would come in anywhere near on time and on budget – leaving citizens and taxpayers with one big mess.
In one of its last actions before leaving office, one of the project’s greatest boosters – Purcellville’s outgoing mayor and town council – attempted to amend the town code to extend the expiration dates of what are known as “Certificates of Design Approval” or CDAs, a move many saw as tailor made to continue to grease the skids of Vineyard Square.
The vote was delayed, and when the town code change was taken up by the incoming town council and mayor it was rejected. Said incoming town council member Karen Jimmerson, this was a political power play, and should be voted down.
This is fair and balanced outcome. And, now the citizens of Purcellville have the opportunity to re-evaluate Vineyard Square, and – through an appropriate, reasoned and open process – reject these changes to historic downtown, if they choose.
The most important reasons for taking a very hard second look at Vineyard Square include:
The Fallacy of the Developer’s Original Buy-Right Zoning Argument. With by-right zoning, a particular property is zoned for the use the property owner proposes and the property owner can move forward with their project. In this case, however, the previous town council gave these developers a new zoning, which allowed them to propose a high-density development of up to six stories without regard to the historic nature of the area, including the businesses that had been operating there for 100 years or more. It was a developer give-away.
Previous Town Council Rejections of BAR Recommendations That Might Have Protected Historic Downtown While Allowing The Project To Proceed. Last year the Purcellville Board of Architectural Review, following their design guidelines, approved the project with major revisions to its size and scope. The town council overruled the BAR’s recommendations and gave the developers approval to proceed with the project virtually unchanged.
Competing Visions for What Purcellville’s Historic Downtown Should Look Like, and How It Should Function.
The Vineyard Square development will drop a Reston Town Center style development on the east side of Purcellville’s historic downtown, to include retail, condominiums, and underground parking. The development will be coordinated with an effort to turn the historic area into a modern streetscape with boulevard-style sidewalks and other features consistent with the taxpayer-funded tourism zoning the prior mayor and town council gave specifically to this developer. (Existing businesses such as Nichols hardware will need to fend for themselves and see if they can still make a go of it!)
If the citizens believe that one developer should be able to dictate what happens to a historic downtown, that an architectural review board’s recommendations can be virtually ignored, and that they agree with this vision of Purcellville’s historic downtown, they should let things lie.
Otherwise, they should work with their new mayor and town council to “uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-undo it.”