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Correct Course and Review the Comprehensive Plan

January 6, 2015 by Andrea Gaines filed under Columns, View From the Ridge 1 Comment

Like a ship lost at sea, many residents of Purcellville see the development patterns in and around town as having drifted dangerously off course.

The Autumn Hill/Mayfair development – which resulted in the annexation of previously open land, is one example of this drift. The Vineyard Square development project, which, if built, will in one fell swoop fundamentally and permanently degrade the historic nature of Purcellville’s downtown.

Town-based communities in Loudoun County are required to develop the planning and zoning document known as a Comprehensive Plan – a blueprint that directs both where and how development will occur, and provides protection for the historic and environmental resources communities have identified as essential to how they see themselves today and want to define themselves in the future.

Depending on whom you talk to, these communities – including Lovettsville, Leesburg, Middleburg and Purcellville – have managed to keep their growth patterns on course … or not; inspiring and accommodating growth while preserving what is unique and economically beneficial to the community as a whole, or failing to do so.

The storm-strength winds, currents and tides of growth rolling through western Loudoun County are formidable. And, as evidenced by the possible loss of much of it’s historic downtown, Purcellville is struggling. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Major zoning changes are being proposed, housing and commercial densities are being increased, special exceptions are becoming more and more common, and things that in prior years would have required formal amendment to the citizen-driven Comprehensive Plan are being decided “in committee.” This includes major proposed changes to the zoning in the Hirst Road corridor. Developers, town staff and some on council, are pushing for these changes while sidestepping repeated calls for a thorough Comprehensive Plan review first. Citizens need to know that this is the scenario that resulted in the approval of the Vineyard Square development – an outcome that few wanted and even fewer saw coming.

As embodied in the town’s Comprehensive Plan – the last thorough review of which occurred over eight years ago with three days of community input, now – the intended destination of Purcellville’s ship, as clearly expressed by the citizens is to accommodate growth but avoid uncontrolled sprawl. The Comprehensive Plan is designed to preserve the environmental, historic and small town character and encourage a varied, broad-based economy, rather than more subdivisions and commercial developments that benefit the few at the expense of the community, and to preserve Purcellville as a “sense of place,” rather than an indistinct spot on the map somewhere in between Tyson’s Corner and Winchester along the Rt.7 corridor.

It’s a new year and there are several new people “at the helm” in Purcellville, including a new mayor and several new members of the town council.

Like a ship whose future is threatened by strong winds, currents, tides and unexpected storms, Purcellville’s leadership must work with its citizens, and citizens must work with this new leadership to resist zoning changes that threaten the integrity of the Comprehensive Plan, lobby for a thorough Comprehensive Plan review, and get the town back on course.

1 comment

  1. Paul says:

    Funny article. Most of the people who complain about how terrible Purcellville is these days just moved here and live in a tract house on a paved over farm. Guess that farm was expendable eh? The magical little town could only accommodate them, their children, their cars and their views and then the town gates must be closed against the gathering hordes from the east.

    If you have lived here for awhile and by “awhile” I mean at least 25 years or, better yet, are a native to the area, you know what a “crock” historic downtown is. Go back to the 1980s and it was fast becoming a business devoid zone of rotting buildings, big rats (oh yeah, I saw them) and weeds. Today’s pleasant welcome of a train inspired gazebo built by Bruce Brownell and a pretty sign and flag was back then a gravel parking lot strewn with weeds backed by a rotting building with broken windows, trees growing out of it and beer cans everywhere within. Teh local kids used it to smoke and I don;t think it was just tobacco.

    It is downright homey to think of a “Sense of Place” when talking about Pville. But which “place” do you mean? The “real” small town of 1800 people in 1983 or the bustling modern town of today with shopping centers, 2 high schools and endless suburban subdivisions filled with new people from somewhere else who suddenly want to go back to 1983 but for the fact their house would be on a manure pile?

    As for this Vineyard Square, that area of the old Meyers Lumber needs something, just maybe not 6 stories of it, I agree. Would you rather famous and well-loved Magnolias at the Mill had remained a rotten old mill building with no foundation and trash in the basement? The new sidewalks, lights, gazebo, etc. downtown helped usher in today’s “historic downtown.” Heck, the very “historic” designation was a part of the process of revitalizing and creating the “historic downtown” all the “Come Heres (and recently at that) keep babbling on about. And whoever worked so hard to try and link Vineyard Square with the Town’s upgrades of sidewalks downtown all I can say is….what? Delusions are grand I guess but could have cost the Town taxpayers millions of dollars. Not smart.

    I have news for the Captain Morgan or whoever wrote this piece and I’ll do it in their nautical theme. The good ship Purcellville was once a down-trodden old tramp schooner with torn sails and a rotting keel. Over the years, the ship was re-purposed and given a steam and then diesel engine, new paint and soon it was almost a yacht. Everybody suddenly wanted to sail on her and they all knew best how to steer the vessel despite having no idea of the sea hazards or local charts. Most of the landlubbers who stole aboard suddenly got nostalgic and missed the old tramp schooner they had never seen. They decided that while they could remain on the yacht, any new vessels would have to revert to torn sails and rotting keels.

    And that mateys, is no plan to me, comprehensive or otherwise.

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