A developer’s plans to build a 100-unit independent living center in the Town of Middleburg have been quashed.
The Town Council on Thursday night voted unanimously to support the Planning Commission’s recommendation not to adopt an amendment to the town’s Comprehensive Plan that would have added “independent living” as an allowable use in the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district and given real estate developer Dan Orlich the ability to apply for a special exception permit to build a 120,000-square-foot, $27 million independent living center for seniors aged 55 and up on a 15.32-acre property off Rt. 50 at the eastern edge of town.
The Town Council agreed that Orlich’s proposal was inconsistent not only with the purposes of the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district, but also with the community’s vision based on public input the town has gathered throughout the Planning Commission’s ongoing process to update the town’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan.
The vote came 10 weeks after Orlich, also the owner of the Atlanta Gladiators ECHL hockey team, presented the Town Council with the idea to build an independent living center on property currently inhabited by 20 head of cattle. Orlich at that Feb. 14 meeting also requested the council to amend the Comprehensive Plan as an initial step toward allowing for the center to go in.
He requested that the town add into the plan a description of “independent living” communities that would have suggested a Zoning Ordinance amendment to allow for such communities as special exception uses in the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district. He also requested the town eliminate its 24-unit maximum for assisted living facilities, its 20-unit maximum for independent living apartments and its 20 one-story cottage maximum in the plan.
The Town Council directed the Planning Commission to review Orlich’s request, which it did for the next six weeks. The review capped off with a March 25 public hearing that packed the town office with about 75 attendees and 19 speakers, only two of whom spoke in favor of the independent living center project—Orlich and Brett Miller, the general manager of Blackwater Beef.
Orlich later presented the town with a petition containing the signatures of 84 people in support of bringing an independent living center to town, which Deputy Town Administrator Will Moore noted did not contain addresses to identify whether the signors lived within the town limits.
The Planning Commission that night voted unanimously to recommend denial of a Comprehensive Plan amendment, finding that Orlich’s proposal was inconsistent with the purposes of the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district, which are to “accommodate and encourage the continuation of agricultural uses within the town and to maximize and preserve areas of open space.”
Nick Hanna, Orlich’s representative and the president of NRC Landscape Construction, read a statement this Thursday night that Orlich prepared for the Town Council, in which he requested the council to approve both the Comprehensive Plan amendment and his request for a special exception permit to build the independent living center in town.
Orlich also wrote that each of the 22 special exception uses that the town is willing to consider in the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district should be viewed as being inconsistent with the district’s purposes. “Independent living is no more inconsistent with the ordinance than a heliport,” he wrote.
Mayor Bridge Littleton disagreed with Orlich’s statement and made it clear that special exceptions are different, but not inconsistent with, the zoning districts they correspond to.
Littleton also referenced a sentiment that Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet shared with him the night before at the Board of Supervisors public hearing on the county’s draft comprehensive plan—that comprehensive plans should be “comprehensive in their impact.”
“It’s a visionary document,” Littleton said. “It’s the vision that’s supposed to reflect the aspirations, goals and desires of the broader community—it’s supposed to reflect what the community wants their home to be.”
Councilman Peter Leonard-Morgan said he would “feel like a hypocrite” if he voted in favor of a Comprehensive Plan amendment that supported Orlich’s request, since he also attended the Board of Supervisors public hearing and spoke in opposition to language in the county’s draft comprehensive plan that could increase development in the Transition Policy Area by more than 50 percent.
“We really don’t want to see that in rural western Loudoun County,” he said. “I just cannot see, personally, that it meets any of the desires and wishes for the Town of Middleburg.”