Buildings in historic downtown Purcellville are now subject to new maximum heights.
In a 5-2 vote Tuesday night, the Town Council adopted zoning ordinance changes in the downtown C-4 zoning district that will limit both building heights and the town and zoning administrator’s authority.
The amendments will affect buildings in the town’s central commercial district, which primarily encompasses the area between North 21st Street and North Hatcher Avenue in the town’s historic corridor. The changes were spurred by controversy over the Vineyard Square development, a by-right, mixed-use project along North 21st Street that envisions five- or six-story buildings.
Council debated whether measuring maximum building heights should be done using both feet and stories. Although the Planning Commission, which drafted the ordinance six months ago, rejected using both methods of measurement, town council decided to add a three-story limitation.
“I’m in favor of having things being transparent,” said Vice Mayor Nedim Ogelman. “I’m in favor of specificity.”
Councilmen Doug McCollum and Chris Bledsoe voted against the change. Although Bledsoe said he supported the height restrictions using measurements of feet, he was opposed to the story limitation.
“When I talk to people, typically they refer to stories in terms of the height of a building,” he said. “They’re substituting story for height.”
Nonpublic buildings in the district will now be limited to three stories and 45 feet in height. Buildings within 50 feet of a residential zoning district are restricted to 35 feet in height. Publicly owned buildings and places of worship could be as tall as 60 feet, providing their yards on all sides are increased by one foot from the property line for each foot above 50 feet in height.
“In urban architecture [publicly owned buildings and places of worship] tend to take a focal point in the community,” said Town Attorney Sally Hankins. “I think this reflects that acknowledgment of the cultural importance for certain buildings.”
Conventionally taller structures, such as church spires, water towers and chimneys, will be limited to 125 feet.
The ordinance will also prohibit the town and zoning administrator from granting modifications to maximum heights upon request from the Board of Architectural Review.
In addition, the ordinance might make current and future buildings in the C-4 district nonconforming.
The tallest building in the Vineyard Square project, located at the southeast corner of North 21st Street and East O Street, is projected to reach 69.5 feet in height. Little construction has taken place on the property and the development faces a deadline to get the project going.
“The height change should not affect Vineyard Square since they have a valid site plan,” said Purcellville Zoning Administrator Patrick Sullivan. “If they do not start building before 2021 they will have to comply with the new height regulations and their original site plan will be void.”
If built, the Vineyard Square structure would be deemed a legal nonconforming building. Two other downtown structures, The Magnolias at the Mill building and the John J. Dillon Building, are also estimated to be taller than 45 feet. According to town staff, current nonconforming buildings can continue to be used for lawful purposes and are allowed to expand within the new height standards.