Lovettsville is the latest Loudoun town to expand its boundaries. The Town Council voted unanimously Thursday night to annex the 15.38-acre volunteer fire and rescue station property at the southwest corner of the Rt. 287/Lutheran Church Road intersection just south of the town limits.
The decision comes 14 months after Lovettsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company 12 submitted its initial annexation application to the town and two months after the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Town Council approve the application.
“It’s been a very long road,” Mayor Bob Zoldos said. “There’s a lot to it.”
The annexation will allow the town’s volunteers to continue using the assembly hall in the existing 17,000-square-foot fire station for Saturday night bingo and to rent it out for private events once renovations are complete in August.
It will also allow the Lovettsville Cooperative Market to open its community grocery store in the station’s 8,700-square-feet of fire and rescue operation space once the county government completes construction of a new18,000-square-foot fire station next door, planned for the summer of 2021.
“We’re extremely excited,” said Karen Deli, president of the volunteer company. “It’s just been a real team effort between the town, the county and the fire department – it really has all come together very nicely.”
Included in the approval was 1,000-foot-long, 8-foot-wide asphalt to be constructed by the county behind the existing and new fire station buildings. It will not cross in front of street entrances to the property, eliminating the risk of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from hitting pedestrians.
The town will benefit from the annexation in the form of water and sewer payments. While the station currently pays the minimum in-town water and sewer rates, about $560 annually, the new firehouse will pay for its actual water usage, which could amount to around $3,500 annually. This would exclude water used for firefighting and training. The existing station will continue to pay the minimum rate until it is redeveloped for the co-op’s move-in.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for the town overall,” said Councilman Nate Fontaine, also the town’s mayor-elect. “It’s fantastic that we got it done.”
Discussions of the annexation began three years ago when Zoldos learned of the Board of Supervisors’ plans to build a new $14.5 million fire station about 550 feet south of the current station by 2021. Although the new station will feature amenities like OSHA-certified sleeping quarters, a gym and fire engine bays with better ventilation, it will not have an assembly hall.
Because of the lack of this gathering space, the volunteers plan to continue their Bingo operations and other community activities at existing station. County zoning regulation would limit or prohibit those events in a stand-alone structure.
Additionally, the co-op could have been prohibited from opening its grocery store in the existing station because the county’s zoning requires at least 25 percent of the products that a farmer’s market sells to be grown on site. The co-op does not plan to grow its own produce.
As an immediate response to this issue, the Town Council last year prepared for the annexation by passing a zoning ordinance amendment to allow for this uses of the property.
More recently, the annexation was discussed in greater detail at a public input session in January where multiple residents from the Heritage Highlands retirement community, located directly across the street from the fire station, voiced their support for it. Zoning Administrator Josh Bateman noted that town zoning would prohibit much development on the property, something the residents liked.
“The idea was to allow [for the co-op to move in], but not much else,” he said. “It’s pretty restrictive.”
The co-op is working to secure funding for the build-out of its grocery store. According to its Spring 2018 newsletter, a co-op member has already donated $10,000 for the design and planning phase of the project.
Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System Assistant Chief Matthew Tobia said the county will be taking the next year to design the new station before it puts the project to bid for construction. He said it would then take about 15-18 months to build.
“This time, three years from now, we should be in a new fire and rescue station,” he said.
Bateman said the town is required to hold a public hearing before drafting a boundary line adjustment and water/sewer agreement with the county. At that point, a circuit court judge will need to sign off on the agreements. Bateman said this process could take up to six months.
“We’re not quite at the finish line, but we’re pretty close,” he said.