By Kelli Grim
The Town spends a great deal of time tinkering, rearranging and rewording all the ordinances, every regulation, zoning law, building height and setback, façade, window pane, sidewalk width and site plan – all of the nitpicking details that are supposed to make the town run smoothly, create an atmosphere of consistency and purpose, and lend some sort of harmony and vision to the Town.
It’s a great deal of time wasted. Despite all the reams of paper, the numerous drafts, the meetings and discussions, the town routinely and capriciously overturns or completely ignores its own regulations.
When it comes to the Cole Farm Project, there are half a dozen ways in which the Town has shown a flagrant disregard for its own ordinances and Town plans. The first concerns the zoning laws forbidding Big Box Stores. With breathtaking disregard for their own very sensible restrictions on the Big Box Blight, which drains revenues out of municipalities, they decided to accept a project that was the undoing and destruction of the most beautiful historic site in Purcellville. A site that put no stresses on traffic, helped to keep the air clean and was part of the rustic and rural “gateway” to a town that was the true historic and agricultural “metropolis” in what until recently was the largely untouched western expanse of Loudoun County. Whether or not the ordinance against big box stores was just posturing, as it seems so much of the time with this town, the rules, once again, did not apply.
Another ordinance that was completely ignored for three years, until several citizens complained about it, was the Historic Overlay District Ordinance. For three years the house on Cole Farm was left with broken windows, letting the weather in to rot the wood floors. That is specifically and strictly forbidden under the HOD Ordinance, and anyone paying the least amount of attention to it would have noticed that the house was being “demolished by neglect.” The windows are now all boarded up. That house was in perfect view for three years. Why the neglect on the town’s part, if it truly wanted the house to be saved? The fact that the restoration of the house and the barn were clearly spelled out in the proffers, and the proffers were what the Special Use Permit was based on, and those proffers are enforceable by law, the Town could have easily revoked the SUP or levied a much harsher response on the developer when the barn was half-demolished. Neither happened. Richard Lake should have known what farm structures were to be saved, and Mayor Lazaro, in a recent Infrastructure meeting, clearly stated that he had just spoken to Lake the Friday before the “accidental” demolition of the barn happened. Folks, it doesn’t add up.
The third, and one of the most egregious, violations of the town’s own ordinances is the violation of the Special Use Permit. There are thirteen specific conditions that must be given consideration in order to issue a SUP. The Town does not even pretend to pay attention to them. Traffic must be considered. Creativity of design. Location. Whether the project will impact water and air quality (which, for example, the Taco Bell/KFC certainly did and which Cole Farm will as well), whether or not topography, vegetation, habitats, or historic structures would be affected, etc. Most of the Cole Farm property design was a complete violation of the intent of the Special Use Permit. SUPs have proven to be nothing more than a gimmick to deny projects the town simply doesn’t want, rather than to keep any consistency overall. A letter of appeal against the site plan dated February 5, 2010 was filed by the Law Firm of G.Macy Nelson. In the four complaints spelled out in the letter, number four reads. “Throughout the process of the approval of this site plan, the Town has either ignored or undermined numerous provisions of its own planning documents, including the Purcellville Zoning Ordinance, Purcellville Urban Growth Area Management Plan, Purcellville Comprehensive Plan, and the Purcellville Transportation Plan.”
To take just one of these mentioned in the letter, in a memorandum (3/13/2009) concerning the Catoctin Corner property, Lauren Krems writes “Land Use Goal #3 (p. 111) the Town’s Comprehensive Plan … promoting … infill development … of underutilized commercial … properties” would be the preferred development pattern rather than to undermine the Plan by “placing too much “new” development on the fringes of town.” The Cole Farm Property is exactly that. This project will cause massive traffic problems that the Southern Collector Road will have no way of alleviating. If the Harris Teeter management was counting on another five thousand single family homes to provide the critical mass, they may have badly overestimated the real estate situation in Loudoun, despite our immunity from the worst deflation of the housing market.
Towns which truly care about their citizens think in advance. They stick to their plans and make their plans stick. Chaos in planning can only make life in town more uncertain for both the customers who live here and the businesses they depend upon. But, no doubt, in the near future, the Town will win a quality of life award for being “such a great place to live and raise a family.”