The vendor tents have been packed up and the thousands of visitors for Saturday’s Oktoberfest have returned home. Lovettsville’s annual celebration of small-town life was bigger than ever.
That’s not just a reflection of the town’s energetic, civic-minded leadership, but also the tremendous growth Lovettsville has experienced over the past decade.
Before 2005, the town was predominantly made up of farmland, historic homes and a few neighborhoods that were built in the late 20th century. In 2006 Lovettsville had about 1,200 residents and an annual town budget of about $200,000. Since then, Lovettsville’s population has doubled and town budget has tripled in size.
According to former town manager Sam Finz, modern development began in 2005, when the Town Council laid out new opportunities for commercial and residential growth. It wasn’t until 2012, following a down period when the 2008 recession hit, that the growth plan began taking shape.
Three years later, construction began on the Lovettsville Square commercial center. With phase one complete in summer 2016, the center’s 17,500 square feet of retail space is now home to seven businesses, including a Velocity Wings and a Leesburg Sterling Family Practice. In the coming years, the center will hopefully include four more retail buildings surrounding the Squirkle—resident’s nickname for the road system that directs northbound and southbound Rt. 287 traffic around the Town Square.
It’s this central area that splits the town in two, with the western side of town seeing heaps of residential development bring in more than 550 homes in recent years and, the east remaining largely unchanged for decades.
Aside from a fewsubdivisionsthat were built in the 1990s, residential development on the western side of town really picked up with the construction of the 153-home New Town Meadows neighborhood in 2005, followed closely by the 212-home Lovettsville Town Center and the 80-home Kingsridge Estates neighborhoods. Construction on the 14-home Lovettsville Glen subdivision just wrapped up. About half of the 80-home Heritage Highlands active adult community is complete, with the 27-home Loudoun West community also under construction.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2016, all that development more than doubled the number of homes in town from 325 to about 700.
On the other side of all the residential growth is the eastern portion of town, which still embodies a traditional aesthetic. Aside from the Lakeview Village and Lovettsville Manor neighborhoods, which were built in the mid-1980s and 1990s respectively, the 23-home Villages at Lovettsville is the only development that the eastern side of town has seen in recent years. Other than that, Zoning Administrator Josh Bateman said that only a few three-or-fewer lot subdivisions have been constructed on that side of town in the past five years.
Rebecca Bryant, a former town resident who now lives just outside the municipal limits, said that it was the residential construction that changed the town. “It was really weird to see them pop up,” she said.
Bryant feels that the town should stop building while it’s ahead, noting that development is better suited for more densely populated areas that have better public transportation.
But she won’t have to worry about much more development, since the Town Council intends to cap the population at 3,500. If the town exceeds that limit, VDOT would stop paying to maintain the town’s roads, turning that multi-million responsibility over to the town’s taxpayers.
According to Mayor Nate Fontaine, the town’s current population is around 2,440—nearly double the population in 2010 and three times the population in 2000. Fontaine said that while the current residential development plans will bring the town close to the 3,500 limit, they shouldn’t push it over. He said that pace of population growth will soon slow to a crawl and that it would take another eight years to reach a population of 3,000.
In addition to the residential boom, Lovettsville has seen an influx of businesses opening around town in the past few years. In 2017 alone, the 1836 Kitchen and Taproom, Thaiverse, The Painted Pig and Back Street Brews opened. A 3,000-square-foot 7-Eleven also opened at the eastern edge of the Squirkle and Rasco New York Pizza became the third pizza parlor in town—although it’s now one of two following Lovettsville Pizza and Subs’ closure last weekend.
This year, Velocity Wings opened in February and Salon Allure opened in March. During summer, Brainiacs, Lotus Town Yoga, the Asian Bistro and the Ivory & Oak Boutique all opened within a three-week span. Altogether, 87 businesses are now registered in the town, including restaurants, doctor’s offices, specialty shops, automotive repair shops and home businesses.
All the commercial development provides the town with an additional $7 for every $1 of commercial real estate tax revenue—with about $36,000 coming from real estate tax and $257,000 coming from bank franchise fees, business licenses, communications revenue and cigarette and meals taxes. In fact, with so many restaurants opening, meals tax revenue has quadrupled since 2010, up from $35,000 to $140,000 annually.
Commercial development also allowed the Town Council this year to reduce the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents from $0.21 to $0.195 per $100 of assessed value, something it hasn’t been able to do since 2005. Even with the reduction, the town still expects to pull in at least $593,000 from the tax annually, counting both the commercial and residential portion. That’s nearly double what it collected in 2010.
Finz feels that Lovettsville’s development has stabilized. He said it’s unlikely the town will be able to reduce residents’ tax burden much more, since the population cap would essentially keep larger businesses that require high levels of foot traffic from moving in.
Fontaine said that the town isn’t looking to attract larger businesses, like grocery stores, since they wouldn’t fit the community’s image. “We want the small, rural town that we have,” he said.
Currently, commercial real estate tax revenue accounts for only 6 percent of the real estate tax base, while the residential portion accounts for 94 percent.
The last remaining large parcel of land to be developed in town is the Engle Tract—35 acres bordering New Town Meadows at the southeastern corner of the Town Square.
Although it’s zoned as light industrial, Bateman said the developer is seeking to rezone the land for commercial and residential lots. While further residential build-out would bring the town’s population closer to the 3,500 limit, Bateman said it’s unlikely that a mixed-use development would be approved, since it doesn’t match the goals of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which looks forward to 2030.
He said that as long as the town doesn’t expand its boundaries for residential development, or change its zoning to allow for greater population density, it most likely won’t exceed the population cap any time soon.
“We’re not going to exceed 3,500 in 2020,” he said. “All we can do is plan forward and project forward.”