Property owner Shawn Rowley spoke before the Purcellville Town Council, February 28, regarding the R-3 Duplex Zoning District. His issue … can’t a structure that looks – for all intents and purposes – like two separate homes above ground, still be considered a duplex, if, underground a hidden wall in the back connects the two?
Rowley built a duplex on G Street recently. Even though the property is currently zoned R-2 (Single-family Residential), and duplexes are not allowed, he was able to do so because the previous Town Council had grandfathered the property under the R-3 (Duplex Residential) zoning district in 2008.
The structures on G Street have the appearance of two single-family detached homes. The homes are joined by an underground wall, which runs between and connects the rear wall of each unit. So, Patrick Sullivan, the Town Zoning Administrator, determined that the two units met the definition of a duplex.
Rowley said, “What made this possible was working with Town staff to come up with a solution that benefited the Town and improved the street scape.” He said the land was unsightly by any standard, and had a dead tree on it. “We were able to work with Town staff to make it happen.”
Mayor Kwasi Fraser put this “definition of a duplex” on the agenda for discussion at the recent Town Council meeting. He said he appreciated innovation and creativity. But, as it conflicts or is perceived to conflict with the Town’s zoning ordinances, he wanted to make sure that such an exception is brought before the citizens and neighbors, not just the zoning administrator.
“I have requested several times for an example throughout the United States where a duplex as defined as such, two separate structures that look as two separate residential buildings; to date I haven’t seen any. So, I want for us to make it clear that within the Town of Purcellville a duplex is a structure that shares a common wall vertical or horizontal, and not a wall that is hidden [underground] in the back,” said Fraser.
Vice Mayor Karen Jimmerson, agreed, saying, “The only thing that concerns me is that we grandfathered a zoning … and I am used to grandfathering a use. Why would we grandfather a zoning? Everything around it is zoned differently and that specific use was kept intact; that seems very odd to me.”
Council Member Nedim Ogelman said, “I don’t think it’s about the use, it’s about the process and the clarity of law, and the clarity of guidance and whether this definition was intended to have that kind of unit or not.” Ogelman said that this should not be subject to one person’s interpretation.
Council Member Doug McCollum said, “Frankly, I am at a loss at what the concern of the Council is for this construction. I don’t share your view about the district. I look at the definition of the R3-Duplex Residential District, these two houses fit in well with the neighborhood. They are duplexes that are very well done.”
Council Member Kelli Grim said that Council needs to look at all the properties that are subject to this zoning. She said that she has yet to find where this has been done in other places. “We could see beautiful homes torn down and duplexes placed throughout the area. And I don’t think that the majority of our residents want to see our town turn into this.”
In a 6-1 vote (with McCollum voting no), the Council decided it will consider a zoning text amendment for duplexes at the next council meeting.