Purcellville Eyes Regulations for 3-Story Buildings Downtown

Builders looking to develop structures taller than two stories in the downtown Purcellville area may be required to get Town Council approval.

The Town Council and Planning Commission convened in a joint meeting March 9 to discuss a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment that would reduce allowable by-right building heights in the C-4 Central Commercial Zoning District, located in the downtown area, from 45 to 35 feet, or three stories down to two stories. The amendment proposes to require builders to obtain a special use permit from the Town Council to build above 35 feet, but up to only 45 feet.

“It simply requires greater scrutiny when you [build above 35 feet in the C-4 district]” said Commissioner Nan Forbes.

Mayor Kwasi Fraser noted that under the proposed changes development between 35 and 45 feet in the C-4 zoning district will require community engagement and “citizen buy-in” during the special use permit process.

Fraser said the focus of the amendment is to execute what the town’s newly adopted Comprehensive Plan calls for: maintenance of Purcellville’s small-town character. On page 32 of the document, in the Land Use Plan section, town leaders are encouraged to consider the size and scale of development by following a guideline establishing that “[t]he predominant character of new construction should mimic the height of older buildings ….”

Fraser noted that the last non-residential building constructed above 35 feet in the C-4 zoning district was built in 1925.

“Heights greater than 35 feet are clearly the exception in the Purcellville C-4 district and should be built with community input in consideration of the character and style of the C-4 district,” he said.

Planning Commission Chairman Nedim Ogelman said during the meeting that the commission proposed the amendment in late August after research that included measuring all 92 buildings in the C-4 zoning district and finding that only eight of them were nonconforming with the language in the proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment. The owners of those eight buildings will not be required to take any action if the council approves the amendment.

Responses to the proposed amendment were mixed during last week’s meeting, with many opposing it.

Via an email read aloud by Vice Mayor Mary Jane Williams, former councilwoman Beverly Chiasson labeled the proposed new regulations as “strangulating restrictions.”

Former Town Council candidate Mary Lynn Hickey wrote that the amendment would make the town seem less business friendly.

Another resident pointed out that many buildings downtown were three stories tall before the November 1914 fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

Around the time the Planning Commission proposed the Zoning Ordinance amendment, a few developers—Casey Chapman, Martinsburg Plaza LC and Loudoun West Investments LLC—proposed to build a three-story, mixed-used building along Hatcher Avenue using the name Trails End, LLC.

According to an Oct. 20 staff report, the building would feature commercial uses at street level and two stories of residential units above, with 18,095 square feet of space on each level. The upper two levels are proposed to accommodate 34 residential units.

“We’re really looking at ‘what are the needs of the community,’” Chapman said, adding that he could put in senior living if the town preferred. “… The downtown is meant to thrive … it’s not meant to sit there idle.”

The Board of Architectural Review voted 3-2 to approve the developers’ certificate of design approval Oct. 20.

Councilman Joel Grewe said he was unsure whether the proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment would affect that development, since the BAR has already given its approval.

Fraser said “no single project or property owner is driving” the Zoning Ordinance amendment to require greater regulations to build above two stories in the downtown area.

Councilman Tip Stinnette said the proposed amendment is not about prospective building applications, but is more about implementing the Comprehensive Plan policies. He said the Planning Commission proposed the amendment to “ensure that development is consistent with the form and fit within the [C-4 zoning] district, between neighboring structures, and adjacent to the district.”

Still, Chapman said he feels targeted by some town leaders, whom he said have “anti-growth” initiatives. He said he’s also been stalled by a formal complaint against his Hatcher Avenue project. Now, the project is in limbo while the town reviews it.

“I am held up now by a single individual who is controlling my entire project,” he said.

Fraser said the town welcomes development in the C-4 zoning district, so long as it conforms with the district’s character and style. He noted that in the past six years in that zoning district, Nichols Hardware was renovated and a new café, Tree of Life clothing store, bakery and tea shop opened.

This story was updated March 16 at 1 p.m. to reflect comments added by Chapman.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

The Purcellville Board of Architectural Review in October 2020 approved plans from Trails End, LLC to build a three-story, mixed-used building along Hatcher Avenue.
Trails End, LLC’s proposed three-story, mixed-used building includes plans for 18,095 square feet of space on each level and 34 residential units.

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