Purcellville Commission to Revise Historic District Expansion Plan

The Purcellville Planning Commission emerged from a Thursday night public hearing with more work to do on its effort to discourage the demolition of the town’s oldest homes, but it won over more public support for its goal.

About 20 speakers lined up to address the commission on its plan to expand the historic district overlay zone to include structures that have been identified as contributing to the town’s historic character.

Virtually all of them came to oppose the proposal because of concerns they would face more government control over their homes, potentially limiting or regulating renovations or even forcing the sale of their property. Four hours later, they left with the expectation the commission would find a better way to achieve its goal.

A public notice mailer sent to the owners of some 300 properties proposed to be added to the historic district left many fearing they would face homeowners association-like controls over such things as their porches or paint colors.

Chairman Nedim Ogelmanand other commissioners stressed that the only intended change is that the proposed demolition of any building listed or eligible for listing on the national or state historic registers or declared a “local landmark” by the Town Council would have to undergo review by the Board of Architectural Review. One provision would require a landowner who was denied a BAR demolition permit to attempt to sell the property before renewing an application to raze it.

In addition to fears of regulatory overreach, speakers asked why their properties had been targeted for inclusion in the expanded district. While their homes may be more than 50 years old, they weren’t historically or architecturally remarkable, many said.

Also among the speakers opposing the policy was Casey Chapman, who is part of a development group proposing to raze three Hatcher Street homes and build an apartment project on the land. Those lots were among the lots proposed for inclusion in the historic district. He said the policies were being rushed and did not reflect the goals of the Town Plan.

During the course of the public hearing—which took on the format of a town hall meeting without enforced time limits on speakers and frequent back-and-forth interactions among speakers, commissioners and the town staff—the crowd seemed to understand the commission’s goals and offered alternatives to prevent homes from being razed to make room for larger structures that would be out of scale with the community.

One idea that gained traction was to apply the demolition review requirements throughout the town, not just on buildings designated as historic. However, Town Attorney Sally Hankins said Virginia law may only permit localities to impose such controls on historic structures. There also was support for making participation in the historic district voluntary for property owners.

If commissioners were initially irked by the wave of opposition they said was caused by confusing town communications, they ended the session expressing appreciation for the comments they received.

“This has been very, very helpful across the board,” Ogelman said.

Commissioners said they would work on revisions to make the regulations clearer and would explore some of the residents’ suggestions. The issue would likely come back for review in September, unless the panel elects to forgo its planned August recess and hold an earlier work session.

If significant changes are made, the proposal would likely require another public hearing before being sent to the Town Council for action.

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