About 60 Lovettsville residents spent their Wednesday evening at the Lovettsville Game Club this week to learn more about—and express concern about—a plan to develop the town’s largest remaining undeveloped property.
The Metropolitan Development Group hosted a community meeting to solicit input on its proposed development of the 35-acre Engle Tract, a vacant property located at the end of Church Street adjacent to the New Town Meadows community that’s zoned as commercial/light industrial. Although it hasn’t submitted any formal applications yet, Metropolitan has proposed that the town could amend its Comprehensive Plan to prepare for a potential rezoning of the property to a newly-created Traditional Neighborhood Development – Mixed Use zoning district to allow for the construction of 129 single-family homes and 29,000-square-feet of commercial space with one entry point off Church Street and another behind the Lovettsville Library off Light Street.
In attendance at the meeting were not only Metropolitan Development Group President Carlos Vasquez and representatives from Lessard Design and the Wells + Associates traffic engineering firm, but also Mayor Nate Fontaine, Town Manager Rob Ritter, the majority of the Town Council and multiple members of the Planning Commission.
Steve Gang, a representative for Metropolitan, led the meeting, first by pointing out how residents could benefit from the proposed “traditional neighborhood development,” which he said would be “interconnected from a walkability standpoint” with different types of houses that would be close to the streets, feature front porches and alleyways and many that would be situated around open spaces.
His main talking point centered on nine characteristics that he said a traditional neighborhood should contain—diverse housing styles; parks and open spaces, some of which would see homes facing inward toward green areas; gathering spaces; an overall pedestrian-friendly community; interconnected streets; mixed land uses that could include commercial uses like a country store; a commercial center with outdoor seating areas; and streets designed at a smaller scale to discourage speeding traffic. “I think it’s important that both the pedestrian and the car are equal,” Gang said.
The ninth characteristic he highlighted was the potential for the Lovettsville town office to relocate on the Engle Tract.
Ritter said that while the town’s Capital Improvement Plan does call for a town office expansion in the coming years, the idea of relocating to the development, if it ever gets built, is too far down the road to comment on, especially since Metropolitan has yet to submit any formal applications.
Gang said the 129 proposed homes in the neighborhood might increase the town’s population by 405 residents, from 2,931 to about 3,336, which is 164 less than the 3,500 limit the town staff and council members would like to remain below. If the town grows to a population of 3,500, VDOT would cease its maintenance of Lovettsville’s roads, forcing the town to pay millions of dollars for the ongoing work.
As for the pros of having a traditional neighborhood development on the Engle Tract, as opposed to a commercial/light industrial use, Gang said there might be about 3,200 vehicle trips per day in and out of the development fewer than what commercial/light industrial uses might produce.
He also noted that buildout for the proposed development would take about five years to complete, while it would take about 20 years to build the property out if it remains commercial/light industrial.
Gang said the only real con of the proposed development is that it would require a Comprehensive Plan amendment.
Gang’s presentation solicited many questions from residents, most of whom shared a common concern of increased population creating increased traffic and overcrowding at Lovettsville Elementary School.
One resident asked where children new to the community might attend school, since Lovettsville Elementary is already at capacity. She noted that more students would lead to larger class sizes and might force the county to install mobile classrooms. “This is a major concern from the parents of the children who are going through the elementary age and will be here for years to come,” she said.
Another resident asked if the proposed development would increase traffic to the point where traffic lights would be needed in the town. She pointed out that an overturned tanker truck on Interstate 495, the beltway, on March 28 forced thousands of cars to find another way home to Maryland by cutting through Lovettsville via Berlin Turnpike.
Wells + Associates Executive Vice President Christopher Turnbull said his firm hadn’t studied all the scenarios just yet, but that the company fully understood that residents don’t want traffic lights in the town. “We’ll be looking at that,” he said.
One other concern related to the commercial aspect of the proposed development, with residents wondering why there needs to be more retail space in Lovettsville when there is already 4,856-square-feet of space available for lease in NVRetail’s Lovettsville Square.
One resident also asked rhetorically which types of businesses would want to open in a town with less than 3,500 residents, and mentioned that some residents like traveling to Purcellville to go shopping and don’t want a grocery store in the town limits.
“I don’t want Lovettsville to turn into the Town of Purcellville,” one resident said, which sparked a round of applause from attendees.
When asked if Metropolitan had looked at developing larger, one-acre lots, Gang said it hadn’t because that would “not make financial feasibility.”
Former Planning Commission Chairman Frank McDonough was the last resident to speak Wednesday night, noting that it took two-and-a-half years with “dozens of meetings” and “tons of public hearings” for the Planning Commission to write the town’s existing Comprehensive Plan, which he said defines what a small town means to Lovettsville residents.
“You’ve essentially just come in and given us a presentation the exact opposite of what the comp plan says,” he said. “You’re going to have to sell us on why we were wrong, and I don’t think people here right now think we were wrong.”
Vasquez said that if he lived in New Town Meadows, he would think McDonough is wrong because he would be opposed to having industrial businesses, rather than a mixed-use development, as his neighbor. “I just don’t think that’s the right site for [a light industrial use],” he said.
Gang said all of the residents’ suggestions were valid and that Metropolitan would “look into every single one.”
The next step in the development process will require Metropolitan to submit an application to the town for a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would suggest planning for the Engle Tract to be zoned for mixed uses.
If the Planning Commission recommends a plan amendment to the Town Council, and if the council subsequently votes to approve it, the town’s Zoning Ordinance would need to be changed to include a new Traditional Neighborhood Development – Mixed Use zoning district, which Town Planner Josh Bateman said would be developed using the nine traditional neighborhood characteristics Gang presented.
Bateman said the traditional neighborhood development is a synonym for the “new urbanism” movement, which is a design philosophy aimed to return American civilization to more pedestrian-oriented, interconnected, green, appropriately-scaled developments. He said that One Loudoun is a good example of the neighborhood design.
The formal procedures that the town would be required to follow would come along with multiple public hearings to solicit resident feedback.