The Town of Purcellville’s size will remain at 3.42-square-miles for the foreseeable future.
The Town Council on Tuesday night voted 6-1to deny a request to annex the 131-acre Warner Brook property—something that’s been on the table since the owners submitted an annexation application in October 2015. Councilman Joel Grewe was the only one to vote against shutting down consideration of the request. The annexation would have been the first step in plans to build single-family homes, office space, indoor and outdoor recreational areas and a retail center on the land along the north side of the Rt. 7 bypass.
Jim Herbert, the realtor representing the Warner family, was one of eight to speak at the meeting and one of only two who spoke in favor of the annexation. He told the council that a “yes” vote only would have moved the annexation process forward, but not outright approved it.
Herbert said the council should have completed its water resources and transportation studies first, so it could have made a more informed decision.
He said that development would have taken up to a decade to complete and could have provided the town with nearly $11 million in one-time permit and tap fees and about $1 million in net annual tax revenues. He said this could have helped the town reduce utility rates in the coming years, since the town’s April 2018 Utility Fund Financial Strategies report indicated that it 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.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser described the 9 percent rate hikes as “mythical” and that it’s “not based on any degree of precision or fact.”
“It’s a scare tactic,” he said.
Fraser also said that that, while the town is facing $128,000 in increased water fund debt in the next two years and $1.5 million in increased wastewater fund debt in the next four years, the town would “develop and implement innovative strategies and sustainable revenue streams” in that time.
“With $125 million worth of assets and over 15 acres owned by the people of Purcellville, we don’t need annexation to determine our fate,” he said.
Grewe said that while he values input from both in-town and out-of-town residents, in-town residents will now carry the financial burden of possible increased utility rates in the coming years.
Owen Brown, a resident of the Wright Farm neighborhood east of the Warner Brook land and outside of the town limits, said that everyone he spoke with was opposed to the annexation and that two out of three were “dead set” against it.
He also said that annexation would have endangered western Loudoun and made it look more like Fairfax and less like Napa Valley, CA. “Anything other than a [vote to deny the annexation application] puts this town on a course to become Ashburn,” he said before a packed town hall erupted in applause.
Wright Farm residents have been among the most opposed to the annexation because of its potential to spark the county’s plan to construct a Northern Collector Road through their neighborhood, connecting Rt. 287 with Rt. 690.
In general, residents opposed to annexation cited increased traffic as a major concern. Although a 2017 Gorove-Slade traffic study paid for by the Warner family indicated that the property would generate about 6,500 trips each day once it’s fully built out in the next decade, the Warners emphasized that the county’s Rt. 7/690 interchange and Rt. 7/287 intersection improvements would have been completed by that point.
The family also suggested that traffic congestion could have been further alleviated by their proposed land donation for the construction of a westbound off ramp from Rt. 7 to Rt. 611.
Tuesday’s vote follows months of back-and-forth between the Warner family and the town. Most recently, when Community Development Director Patrick Sullivan told Herbert that a discussion of the annexation would be added to the Oct. 9 meeting agenda, Herbert requested that it be removed until the town completes its water and transportation studies. Sullivan responded on Oct. 5 by telling Herbert that it would nonetheless be on the agenda.
Although Herbert said he felt that decision set the annexation application up for failure, Vice Mayor Ryan Coolsaid that the discussion item and vote had “not been hustled onto the agenda.” He said that he requested to put it on the Oct. 9 agenda after someone asked him earlier this year why no action had been taken. “If you want to stick it on somebody for putting it on the agenda, you can blame me,” he said.
The Warners application initially included 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 with an indoor recreation center with a 120,000-square-foot soccer field.
In a memo addressed to the Town Council before Tuesday’s meeting, the Warner family wrote that “the town will not have future opportunity to design and control what happens on Warner Brook [if the council votes to deny the application]” and that they would be taking “alternative action.”
“Purcellville will not get a second chance to control the property,” they wrote.