Year in Review: New Purcellville Council Wrestles with Annexation Pressure

The movement to slow growth in Purcellville gained significant traction during 2016, boosted in May elections that delivered a second term for Mayor Kwasi Fraser and a slate of council candidates opposed to annexations and increased development

Following a growth spurt that almost quadrupled the town’s population during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the growth rate slowed with little land available for development.

“There was very little growth—because there wasn’t much property left in town to develop and in the early 2000s the recession hit, and lasted for six or seven years. That resulted in very little development—apart from the Toll Brothers townhouses on North 21st Street,” Town Manager Robert W. Lohr said.

The biggest project under development, the Mayfair subdivision with 260 lots, was originally approved in the 1990s and moved forward after an agreement to have the town annex the property.

There remains the 10-acre Ball property on the west end of town and less than 20 house lots in town to be developed, Lohr said.

The town’s new development pressures come from around its border. So far, the Town Council has worked to keep those doors closed, rejecting developers’ requests for annexations.

Bradford Kline’s plans for the 50-acre Purcellville Crossroads mixed use development along the Rt. 7 Bypass and adjacent Wright’s Farm were rejected.

Although the previous Town Council agreed to consider Kline’s annexation in tight 5-4 vote, the application languished and was finally rejected unanimously by the new council in early November. Kline now says he will pursue by-right uses to develop the property in the county.

Another annexation request is working its way through the review process. The proposal for the 131-acre Warner Brook property was made in late 2015 and envisions a development with residential, recreational, commercial and light industrial uses on the town’s northern edge.

During a community planning workshop held by the Warner family, support emerged for residential development of the property. Wright’s Farm residents negotiated with the family for a residential buffer, but the Warner family hopes the 22-acre indoor/outdoor sports area will provide needed practice and tournament venues. The application also designates 22 acres for light industrial uses and 12 acres for mixed commercial, including a small town center. The town is awaiting the presentation of fiscal analysis of the project.

Several other property owners are eying annexation.

Harmony Meadows LLC, owner of a 16-acre property on the south side of Colonial Highway east of town, in November asked the town to consider a boundary line adjustment to bring the bring the property into town. Harmony Meadows was approved for five residential lots in 2007, but the owners are seeking a different development scheme. The council told the applicant to come with specific plans and to assess the public’s opinion on its request.

Golden Eagle Development owns 67 acres on A Street and is expected to explore annexation.

‘Where Will It End?’

Following May’s election, those requests face an uphill battle.

Fraser is among the council members questioning the merits of expanding the town boundaries.

“Where will it end,” the mayor asked during one council meeting before the election, suggesting the town could be asked to annex land from Hamilton to Round Hill.

During public input sessions on the effort to update the Town Plan, residents—both in-town and out-of-town—made it clear they like Purcellville the way the town is. They set the preservation of the small-town charm and character as a top priority, although some showed support for measured growth.

However, town residents and the Town Council also are worried about high, and increasing, water and sewer bills. Under the current structure, rates will increase annually to cover debt service and operating costs. One way to head off those increases is to add users to the utility system—approving more development.

In sessions with its utility rate setting advisor, Municipal & Financial Services group, and its financial consultant, Davenport and Co. LLC, in the fall, council members asked both groups for out-of-the-box suggestions as to how the town could avoid rate hikes without opening more land for development. The advisors are scheduled to return to council in January and February.

Although one of the utility experts warned it was “naïve” to expect that raising the utility rates could be avoided, the council is exploring other avenues by which it could boost its Utility Fund. This month, the council settled on the sale of Mary’s House of Hope to Good Shepherd Alliance for $300,000 and approved a near five–year lease arrangement of the town’s old maintenance facility on South 20th Street with Makersmiths for a total of $99,000. The council also is looking at timbering at the 1,300-acre J.T. Hirst Reservoir and ways to increase revenue from Bush Tabernacle/Fireman’s Field and other town-owned properties.

Whether those measures can close the gap so the town does not have to regularly raise the utility rates is still an open question.

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