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.