The future of the 131-acre Warner Brook property could be decided in two weeks, with the Purcellville Town Council set to vote on whether to annex the land.
The Town Council on Tuesday night weighed the pros and cons of the annexation of the Warner Brook property, located just north of Rt. 7 on the east side of Purcellville Road, during an hour-long discussion that yielded differing views from council members on how the process should be handled. The discussion came as the sixth step in an eight-step annexation process. Next is the Town Council vote on Oct. 23 to approve or deny the annexation. The final step would be reaching an annexation agreement with the county Board of Supervisors.
The Warner family initially submitted its annexation application to the town on Oct. 8, 2015, with plans to develop 160 single-family homes on 65 acres, 15,000-square-feet of office space on 24 acres, an outdoor recreational area with a soccer field and trails on 22 acres, a commercial village with a small town center and 70,000-square-feet of retail space on 11 acres and nine acres containing an indoor recreation center with a 120,000-square-foot soccer field.
The main thrust behind Tuesday’s discussion was the question of whether the review process was moving too quickly. Councilman Tip Stinnette said updated traffic and water resources plans, which the town intends to complete within a year, should be in hand before discussions can be thoroughly conducted.
“An updated transportation and water resources plan are not only reasonable, but they’re obtainable,” he said. “It occurs to me that to underestimate the costs or the benefit of this application would be to commit representative government malpractice.”
In response to Stinnette’s concern, Councilman Nedim Ogelman said that, while the Town Council does have a responsibility to get as much information as it can, it also has an obligation to not engage in “analysis paralysis.”
“Do we ever make decisions based on complete information,” he asked. “We need to vote in the now, prepare for the future and engage in cost-benefit analysis to the extent that we can.”
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said the traffic and water studies could take more than a year to perform and cost taxpayers more than $1 million. He said that delaying a vote on the annexation would border on “operational malpractice.”
“If this council is seeking a perfect number to make a decision, we might be here a year from now having the same discussion,” he said. “We have discussed this already I think sufficiently and we have to make a decision.”
According to Jim Herbert, the Realtor representing the Warner family, these studies would better inform a Town Council vote by showing how Warner Brook’s development would impact traffic and how much water would be necessary to sustain development.
Herbert said that annexation could help address the town’s utility fund woes by providing nearly $11 million in one-time permit and tap fees and about $1 million in net annual tax revenues.
According to the town’s Utility Fund Financial Strategies report released in April, the town might need to increase water rates by 9 percent in each of the next five years if more users aren’t added to the system after fiscal year 2021.
“An immediate discussion of Warner Brook will only underscore the need to get further information regarding critical infrastructure,” Herbert wrote in an email to Community Development Director Patrick Sullivan on Oct. 5. “Discussions regarding Warner Brook plans or any other plan until that data is available cannot be fully informed.”
Although Sullivan acknowleged there “is an issue with enough water,” he also said that the town has an incomplete assessment of the potential development’s impact on traffic and utilities.
The Town Council is following an annexation process that it adopted in 2015, which establishes eight steps the town is required to complete when considering a property annexation—community briefing, application submission, Town Council and county notification, staff review, a Town Council briefing, Town Council discussions, a Town Council vote and annexation negotiation between the town and county.
In November 2014, the Warner family held a public charette to review development options. In October 2015, the family submitted its application, which prompted town staff to notify the Town Council and county that same months and review the application in November 2015. The Town Council was briefed in January 2018.
If the annexation is approved, the town will request that annexation agreement negotiations commence between it and the county. If it’s denied, the Warner family can reapply for annexation after 12 months.
Town Attorney Sally Hankins said that even if the Town Council approves the annexation, the town can suspend the process at any time before the court enters the order to expand Purcellville’s corporate boundary.