About 50 area residents filed into the Lovettsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company’s assembly hall Thursday night to learn more about the proposed town annexation of the property.
The Town Council held a public input meeting for residents to ask questions and learn more about the proposal to bring the 15.38-acre tract into the town’s boundaries. The annexation is under consideration to address the future use of the buildings once the county government constructs a new $14.5 million fire station next door. County zoning rule might allow for the operation of the assembly hall as a stand-alone events building with weekly bingo and could thwart plans by the Lovettsville Cooperative Market to operate in the current fire station .
“If we were to remain in the county … it’s questionable whether or not we would be allowed to do those activities,” said Karen Deli, president of the fire company. “Primarily, the biggest thing for us is to maintain this assembly hall.”
Jack Burden, a resident of the Heritage Highlands retirement community located directly across the street from the fire station, said he was in favor of the annexation because town zoning would keep commercial development on the property to a minimum. Zoning Administrator Josh Bateman said the town would allow “not a lot” of development on the property.
Another resident questioned why the town is considering the annexation at all.
“If [the station is] generating so much money from bingo, why is this building dilapidated?” she asked the volunteer firefighters who were present at the meeting. “There’s too many unanswered questions.”
Mayor Bob Zoldos first proposed annexation in 2015, when the Board of Supervisors endorsed plans to build a new 18,000-square-foot firehouse about 550 feet south of the current station. Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Brower said the new station would feature amenities including OSHA-certified sleeping quarters, a gym and fire engine bays with better ventilation. It would lack an assembly hall, though.
The volunteers quickly realized that if the existing 17,000-square-foot station remained on county land, bingo might be a thing of the past because county zoning could restrict it from taking place in a stand-alone building.
The co-op could also be prohibited from opening its community grocery store in the existing firehouse’s 8,700-square-feet of space that is currently used for fire and rescue operations, since county zoning would require at least 25 percent of the products it sells to be grown on site.
“The co-op has never intended to farm its own produce,” said Sarah Searle, chairwoman of the co-op’s board. “We do not plan to grow any.”
Opening the store is something the co-op has planned for nearly a decade to better serve town residents. The nearest grocery store is the Weis Markets in Brunswick, MD.
To address those concerns, the fire department submitted an annexation application last March. Bateman noted the Town Council last year also changed one of its zoning rules to allow for the co-op’s store to open if the property is annexed.
An extension of the town’s shared-use trail along Rt. 287 is also being considered. The trail, which was completed in 2015, currently stops at the Rt. 287/South Loudoun Street fork but could be extended by U.S. Home Corp., the developer of Heritage Heights, to Lutheran Church Road. In the new firehouse plans, the county proposed to build a crosswalk from the community to the station for pedestrians to safely visit the firehouse. “The public should be able to access the public fire station,” Bateman said.
In addition, 95-feet of trail could be installed along the property—potentially starting in front of the existing firehouse before curving behind the new firehouse, which would eliminate the risk of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from hitting pedestrians at the station’s entrances.
The town could also benefit from the annexation in the form of water and sewer payments. The station currently pays the minimum in-town water and sewer rates, at $104.05 per billing period. If the property is annexed, Bateman said the new and existing firehouse would pay for its actual water usage, which could amount to about $3,500 of additional revenue to the town annually. This would exclude water used for firefighting and training.
Town Manager Sam Finz said the resident feedback would be used by the Town Council and the Planning Commission as their deliberations continue.
“I plan on meeting as often as we have to meet and bring it forward as quickly as we can bring it forward,” he said.