The Purcellville Planning Commission and Town Council held a joint meeting September 8 to discuss the Town’s Comprehensive Plan Review. The major points of discussion in the review revolved around issues of growth – specifically how broad the language should be and how far into the future should the town go.
A few planning commissioners want the Comp Plan to incorporate broad language – allowing for purposely flexible planning to allow expansion of the Town’s boundaries in the future. On the other side of the discussion, Town Council Member and Planning Commissioner Kelli Grim has argued that the residents of Purcellville do not want to grow outside the Town’s existing boundaries. Said Grim: “It is time that we focus on growth and development inside the boundaries of our beautiful small Town.” Senior Planner Daniel Galindo, expressed his preference of focusing the Comp Plan “25 years out” – presumably allowing for greater flexibility. But, Commissioner Tip Stinnette said that the citizens would be much better served focusing the larger portion of the plan on the next 10 years.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said that he didn’t think it is wise or prudent to have a development plan all the way into 2034 or beyond. And, Stinnette agreed with this saying, “Part of our problem here is that we are trying to project what we are going to look like in 2040. And, to be completely honest with you none of us have a clue. The point being is if you look at Middleburg and the other Towns in Loudoun County, they have taken their planning documents – their Comp Plan – and have actually brought it in and said I want to build a plan with 10 year assumptions, and if those things change within five years, we will change it, we will redesign it.”
By law, the Comp Plan must be reviewed every five years, as the guiding document for whether or not the town pursues zoning use changes and annexations.
Stinnette continued, “Let’s just figure out how to get to 10 years from now. That is a foundational question, I personally say go with 10 years … and there are other people who say we ought to be looking out 25 years. Until we figure this out we are going to get this mixed vibe … I do think if we design a tight plan that basically says we are not in the business of growth and are not in the business of annexation we are looking at a 10-year horizon.”
The problem with envisioning a future for Purcellville to 2040 is that speculative assumptions about the far future end up shaping the plan for the next five years.
Adding to the discussion, Chair Theresa Stein said, “If you put up the hard boundary, you put up the wall, somebody has to wait a year to get the Comp Plan amended, then I don’t think we have done our job because we cut them off and an opportunity has been lost. And, what do you have, we do the Town a disservice if we say there is a line.”
Town Council Member Nedim Ogelman pointed out that it is not a matter of making a line or not, it’s a question of whether citizens or outside special interests are better positioned to influence the future of the town. Purcellville citizens have clearly expressed their desire to preserve “our small town.” The Comprehensive Plan should tightly and unambiguously reflect this prevailing sentiment. If a developer wants to deviate from this expressed will of the citizens, a Comprehensive Plan amendment is the most appropriate vehicle because it forces a more transparent process giving the citizens a chance to scrutinize, deliberate and decide whether or not they want to go in a different direction. A loosely worded Comprehensive Plan, continued Ogelman, would give outside special interests the room they want to change Purcellville against the expressed will of the citizens.