Board Votes to Dismiss County Lawsuit – Purcellville Moves to Eliminate Barriers to Development
At its recent February 14 meeting, the new Board of Supervisors, on a motion by Supervisor Clarke, voted to direct the Loudoun County Attorney to dismiss a County lawsuit that had challenged the Town of Purcellville’s authority to ignore a longstanding Town/County agreement designed to uncontrolled land annexations.
The following week, the Joint Purcell-ville Urban Growth Area Management Plan (PUGAMP) Committee, consisting of Purcellville’s Mayor Lazaro and Council-man Priscilla, both representing the Town, and Supervisor Clarke and Planning Commissioner Douglas representing the County, met and voted unanimously to recommend that the County and Town nullify the Annexation Agreement and eliminate PUGAMP altogether. It is reasonable to assume that this recommendation will be followed.
PUGAMP is a joint plan between the Town of Purcellville and the County which directs how the land surrounding the Town is developed.
PUGAMP, together with the accompanying Annexation Agreement, provides a process for the Town to expand its borders by annexing land within the designated Urban Growth Area (UGA) in Phases, over a period of many years, and is based on the Town’s ability to provide sufficient water and sewer service for future development in those areas. The Phasing allows for growth to be managed at a sustainable pace in partnership with the County.
Phase I of the PUGAMP and Annexation Agreement, however, allowed for the Town to annex a small portion of land inside the Urban Growth Area without County approval; annexation of land outside of Phase I required agreement by both the Town and the County. It was when the Town of Purcellville, ever expanding its borders, started to annex land outside of Phase 1 without County approval, that things got hot and the Town was presented with a lawsuit.
By the summer of 2009, the Town had annexed all of the land in Phase I and continued annexing land outside of Phase I (2.24 acres of Brown’s Farm, 8.67 acres of the O’Toole property adjacent to Brown’s Farm, and the remaining, undeveloped 66 acres of Patrick Henry College) without County agreement or participation. The Town Council believed that phasing as a concept had expired and that it had the authority to annex any or all of the remaining land in the UGA without County agreement. The County strongly disagreed.
The County Administrator, and then Board of Supervisors Chairman York sent letters of objection to the Town requesting meetings to discuss the disagreement. These requests were ignored. Chairman York, in his letter of September 21, 2009, stated “This [annexation] represents a substantial demand for public utilities, which I believe far exceeds existing capacities.” The basis of York’s comment was a Town consultant’s study (known as the “CH2MHill” study) which concluded that the Town, in 2007/2008, did not have enough water to meet its maximum daily demand and would not be able to meet its average daily demand beyond the fall
The Town would not agree to meet to resolve the disagreement nor agree to a third-party arbitration. So, in December 2009, two days before the annexations were to become official, the County filed an injunction with the court to block the annexations and have the court decide whose interpretation was correct. The trial, following several delays, was set to start in Spring 2012. Now, with a newly elected pro-development Board of Supervisors, it appears that the lawsuit will be dismissed, PUGAMP will be dead, and significant development is likely to proceed without delay and without County input. The consequences for the residents of Purcellville will, in both the near and distant future, be major. Every resident of the Town will be affected. Changes will include:
- Traffic and Sprawl: The Route 287 corridor from the Route 7 By-Pass to Business 7 will have significant increased traffic. The Harris Teeter shopping center, plans for retail and office space at the O’Toole property (which will be on the Southern Collector Road), the planned Catoctin Corner shopping center (approved for six commercial businesses, four of which are drive thru’s), and the expansion of Patrick Henry College to 1,600 students, 400 faculty and staff, and a “chapel” to seat 2,000 will saturate that area. According to its own traffic analysis, Patrick Henry College alone will generate approximately 3,800 vehicle trips per day, some fifty percent more than Woodgrove High School. The roundabout at Business 7/Route 287 may become clogged because of new traffic lights in close proximity.
- Historic Old Town Purcellville: The planned expansion of commercial/ retail enterprises in the Route 287 corridor will likely have a negative effect on the business establishments in the downtown area. This has been the typical result in many small towns across the nation where new commercial activity on the edge of town or on a bypass strangled the economic viability of the older sections of town.
- Water: Mayor Lazaro has announced that the Town has purchased five new wells as recommended by the CH2MHill study, thereby increasing the Town’s capacity from approximately ½ million gallons per day (GPD) to 1 million. He also claims that the Town is working on other projects that will add another ½ million GPD in the future and that the Town now has enough water for the next 20 years. The CH2MHill study contradicts that claim and suggests the Town’s water capacity, without further annexation, will need to be in the neighborhood of 1.9 million GPD by 2032. Councilman Priscilla has announced that the Town has changed its method of calculating future demand for water, so things look better for the future. (Editor’s Note: Revising future estimates to present a rosier picture is a highly practiced art form by politicians. It doesn’t mean the new estimates are true; just rosier!)
- Future Annexations: At the Joint PUGAMP Committee meeting, Mayor Lazaro stated that the Town does not plan to annex any more land beyond the three properties in question (Brown, O’Toole, and Patrick Henry). While that may be the Town’s current position, there is nothing to prevent future annexations. Since PUGAMP is now dead, the Town stands unprotected from whatever an adjoining landowner might dream up.