It’s Time Fauquier Hired a Full-Time Zoning Inspector

By Les Cheek

Are you annoyed by developers’ “open house” signs cluttering up Fauquier’s highway shoulders every weekend? Have you ever been distracted by waving vertical banners or flapping air-powered vinyl humanoids advertising roadside businesses?

If so, you should know that all of these commercial displays are violations of the county’s zoning ordinance. And the fact that you see them repeatedly is one of the reasons why CFFC and other conservation organizations are mounting a campaign to persuade our Board of Supervisors to fund a full-time zoning enforcement position in the county’s Department of Community Development (COMDEV).

CFFC has made the case for a full-time zoning enforcement position in meetings with each of the five supervisors over the past several weeks.

COMDEV has asked the board for $34,300 in the county’s 2018 budget to elevate its part-time (20 hours per week) zoning inspector to full-time status.

COMDEV administers one of Virginia’s most complex and sophisticated zoning ordinances, yet is almost entirely dependent on reactive, complaint-driven processes for its enforcement. Consequently, even flagrant violations typically go unnoticed and uncorrected.

CFFC believes that the absence of proactive COMDEV zoning compliance monitoring creates the perception that the county doesn’t care enough about its rules to enforce them, thereby encouraging chronic violators to believe that their transgressions will go unpunished.

How is it possible for a part-time inspector in a 660-square-mile county to respond to 120 or so annual citizen complaints, identify non-compliant conditions, issue letters of violation, explain needed corrections, and follow-up with field visits, etc? Those duties are in addition to monitoring construction compliance with site plans and other permits and inspecting sediment and erosion control measures.

It is likely that CFFC members have noticed violations of the county’s zoning rules, such as utility sheds placed fewer than 15 feet from residential property lines. If you are among these members, please email your supervisor in support of a full-time zoning inspector, citing your experience as evidence of the need to budget for such a position. Attaching a photograph of the violation may be persuasive.

CFFC believes that the $34,300 addition to a multimillion-dollar budget demonstrates Fauquier’s respect for the law would yield benefits far in excess of the investment. Please help us make it a reality.

To contact your supervisor, go here:

CFFC Members Respond to Call To Action on Vint Hill

A December email bulletin urging members to write supervisors to deny Vint Hill developers a Comprehensive Plan amendment was the most successful in CFFC’s relatively short history of electronic communications. Thirty-eight percent of CFFC members opened the email and 28 percent clicked on it, extraordinarily high numbers, according to experts. Thank you.

The supervisors heard from CFFC members, and others, and the Vint Hill owners saw the writing on the wall and withdrew their proposal. Victory, although it would not be surprising if Vint Hill submitted a new initiative after modifying the original.

CFFC members will be alerted if any proposal before the supervisors at any time threatens the rural character of Fauquier County.

Walker Drive and East Lee

Resolution of Walker Drive Dispute Awaits Court Date

By Sally Semple

Litigation challenging a Walker Drive development is awaiting a court date to determine whether the seven Warrenton residents who sued the Town of Warrenton have standing to do so.

Fauquier Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Parker is also expected to rule on assertions by the litigants that the retail and residential development will be harmful because of increased road noise, traffic, light pollution and threats to personal safety. The town has called these assertions “speculative.”

The citizens’ suit against the Town alleges that the Walker Drive rezoning fails to meet the basic land use mix and applicability criteria of the town’s Planned Unit Development ordinance, and that the town failed to follow waiver, proffer, and public hearing requirements in Warrenton and State laws. The project was approved 6-1 by town council last August following a spirited public hearing.

The complaint also alleges harm to the private property rights of the five plaintiffs who are party to an ingress-egress easement granted by the Edgemont Homeowners Association to the Town of Warrenton.

The town’s approval of a pedestrian path to the Walker Drive development may violate the easement, which may be used only for emergency purposes.

The town has requested that the applicants (East Side Investment Group, LLC, Walker Drive Investment Group, LLC and Springfield Real Properties, LLC ) be added as defendants to the case.

The Capitols Steps: Event Recap

CFFC launched its 50th anniversary celebration with a sold-out performance by the Capitol Steps last November at the Highland School’s Rice Auditorium. The audience roared with laughter as the celebrated, Washington-based satire group spoofed official Washington and presidents past and present.

The Capitol Steps performance introduced CFFC to a new and decidedly younger audience comfortable with social media. We will be communicating with this group throughout the year in an attempt to broaden the membership base and attract the next generation of conservationists.

Jocelyn Sladen Receives Kitty P. Smith Award

Jocelyn Sladen received the 2017 Kitty P. Smith Conservation Award from CFFC in recognition of her lifelong commitment to rural conservation. Ms. Sladen was a founding member and director of the Virginia Native Plant Society. She was honored as “a passionate advocate for the natural world.”

Bugle Revival Among Highlights Of CFFC’s 50th Celebration

We are only at the beginning of CFFC’s 50th anniversary year, but are building momentum following our first successful celebratory event. A centerpiece of the golden anniversary will be the special commemorative edition of the Bugle, a spirited CFFC publication created in the 1990s by the late Julian Scheer.

The Bugle (Tagline: All the news that causes a fit) was created to inform and ignite public opinion on critical county projects, and was born during a time when the established news media, mainly, the Fauquier Times-Democrat, made it difficult for CFFC’s conservation message to be heard.

The Bugle will present original articles tracing CFFC highlights from 1968 to the present, such as thwarting Auburn Dam, opposing the notorious SPR building, promoting the countywide Horse Survey and more. There will also be a detailed timeline, historical photographs and a look at the next 50 years.

The Bugle redux will be distributed through libraries and mailed to every postal address in Fauquier County. April is the target date for release of the Bugle.

Images appearing in the Bugle, along with other photographs, will form the heart of a special photo portfolio illustrating both the history and the values that de ne CFFC. Planners are working on a series of commemorative events for the balance of the anniversary year, including a possible exhibition of the portfolio photos, a special lecture or a lm presentation for next fall.

Introducing the Capitol Steps in November, CFFC Anniversary Committee chair, Yakir Lubowsky, told the audience, “…the parties profiting from development are well-represented in advancing their interests at all levels of the county regulatory process… while CFFC is the smart, consistent voice of all citizens on these matters, crucial to our community yet advocated consistently by only one entirely local organization — for fifty years now – ours, and we hope yours too.”

Walker Drive

November 7th Hearing on Walker Drive Lawsuit

Housing, shops and thousands more daily car trips will choke Walker Drive if the town’s controversial rezoning withstands a court test.

By Sally Semple

At issue at a hearing to be held in Fauquier County Circuit Court November 7th is whether litigation challenging the controversial rezoning of the Walker Drive development in Warrenton has a legal basis.

The Town of Warrenton, in a motion known as a demurrer, argues that there is no legal basis for a lawsuit filed Aug. 10, asserting that town council failed to follow proper procedures by rezoning 31.4 acres on Walker Drive to Industrial Planned Use Development from Industrial, opening the door to residential, commercial and industrial uses.

The speculative rezoning — there is no developer — allows 116 apartments and condominiums in addition to shops and restaurants. The property owners said this project will be an attractive site for a movie theater and promised to reserve 50,000 square feet for seven years for an entertainment complex.

In the wake of the July 11 rezoning, seven Walker Drive neighbors sued the Town of Warrenton to block the development, claiming that the Town Council failed to adequately research and vet the project to mitigate traffic, traffic noise, light pollution and safety in the surrounding neighborhood.

Neighbors’ repeated, prior requests for clarity on traffic and sewer impacts were met with a partial by-right traffic analysis that the town conceded probably should have been more comprehensive. Underlying assumptions in the traffic analysis that swayed impacts in the favor of the developer were neither revised nor corrected.

The suit alleges that the town failed to follow the waiver, proffer, and public hearing procedures of Warrenton regulations and state law in approving the rezoning, and that the proposed land uses failed to meet the basic applicability criteria of the town’s Planned Unit Development regulations.

The vote to approve the rezoning followed a spirited public hearing in which CFFC, The Piedmont Environmental Council and 30 citizens urged the Town Council to deny the rezoning. Of the 22 people who spoke in favor of the project, only seven were town residents, none of whom has economic ties to the project.

Piney Ridge School

Future Uncertain for Historic Piney Ridge School

The Piney Ridge School looks unloved and forgotten, but is believed to be structurally sound and ready for a new life on a new site.

By Mary Root

The abandoned building is a forlorn sight, sandwiched as it is between the Warrenton Training Center’s barbed-wire fence and an expansive automobile salvage operation along a dusty gravel road.

But this building, Piney Ridge School, was once a source of local pride and a place of learning for Remington’s African-American children. The one-room school was built in 1923, the result of an innovative concept conceived by two men: Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington. Rosenwald, the president of Sears & Roebuck, and Washington, Tuskegee Institute’s founder, both felt that education for black children was essential. Together they built over 5,300 schools across the American South.

The Rosenwald Fund provided guidance, architectural plans and financed one-third of the construction costs. The school district contributed one-third, and the African-American community provided the final third, often through sweat equity. Piney Ridge School (called “Remington School” in the Fisk University database, and “Colored School No. 15” on the 1934 Fauquier County map) cost a total of $2,450 to build. The 2-acre lot was acquired for $150 from Robert & Cuetta Davis, with the deed noting the land was “for a public colored school.”

The Rosenwald architectural plans were innovatively designed for a rural place lacking electricity. The building was sited with a large bank of windows facing the southern exposure for natural lighting. The opposite wall had windows placed high for ventilation. The schoolroom layout was simple. Upon entering the front door, cloakrooms for boys and girls were on either side, furnished with benches, and lit by two windows for each space. The classroom beyond was 22’ wide and 30’ long and furnished with a blackboard, desks, and a potbelly stove. At the back was a movable partition, which could conceal the “Industrial Room” or be drawn aside for demonstrations. The room (22’ wide by 8’ deep) contained another blackboard and a large worktable. There, students learned practical skills such as canning, sewing, and carpentry.

In March 1966, the School Board sold Piney Ridge School and six others at public auction, with the building and two acres fetching $1,850. The building was then used as a residence for many years, but has now been empty for a decade. Outside, the building has small trees growing beneath the roof’s dripline, one of the cloakroom windows is broken, and the front stoop has crumbled. Half of the south-facing windows have disappeared, and two small windows were added on the north side. Inside, the original plaster & lathing walls and ceiling were removed, but that action happened to reveal the building’s beautiful structure – its original window framings, cloakroom wall site, and diagonal pine sheathing – all in perfect condition.

Piney Ridge School

The Piney Ridge School is on a gravel road facing the unwelcoming chain-link fence of the Warrenton Training Center.

Piney Ridge School would be an excellent candidate for adaptive re-use, but its present location is a hindrance. The nearby Providence Baptist Church, with three Piney Ridge graduates among its small congregation, would accept the building for a community hall, but there are physical and financial obstacles to moving the building.

Solutions are being sought. Perhaps moving the building in sections would decrease the estimated $40,000 moving cost, as it would then fit down the narrow gravel road. Perhaps a combined community effort might raise funds to build a new foundation and repair the building. As for now, it sits alone on a bend in the road.

The Capitol Steps Kick Off CFFC’s 50th Anniversary

The Capitol Steps

The Capitol Steps, Washington’s celebrated political satire troupe, will perform Nov. 19 at Highland School to launch the 50th anniversary celebration of Citizens for Fauquier County.

Tickets are $25 and are available online.

No sales at box office on the day of the performance.

Throughout 2018, the CFFC will illustrate the landmarks during the 50 years that the CFFC has fought to preserve the rural, agricultural heritage of Fauquier County. Plans include a photographic exhibit, a publication of key moments in the conservation group’s history and a program forecasting the changes and challenges over the next 50 years.

Walker Drive and East Lee

Walker Drive Project: Oversold and Underplanned

By Sally Semple

In the last three years Warrenton Town Council has become stunningly pro-development. Unless significant numbers of citizens make their voices heard at a public hearing, there are sufficient votes on council to give a green light to the controversial Walker Drive development.

This is a car-intensive commercial project with multifamily dwellings, shoehorned into an established lower density residential neighborhood, within steps of the Historic District.

Touted as a mixed-use, planned neighborhood center — the crown jewel of which would be a movie theater — the proffers contain no movie theater, replace professional offices with generic multifamily housing, and undermine the opportunity for a balanced mix of employment.

Acres of parking lots to accommodate over 11,750 daily vehicle trips would flank the approach to Old Town, and green space would be relegated to narrow strips around the parking lots and storm water management pond.

The developer manipulated the zoning allowing for dense, multi-family housing, totaling 116 units on a site that even when rezoned was supposed to contain more industrial office than housing space. Weak proffers permit the developer to construct two condominium buildings before contributing a dime to road improvements. And when the developers eventually are required to help pay for the critical roundabout on East Lee Street, they will contribute less than their fair share.

Town Council, at a work session, ignored the Warrenton Planning Commission’s 6-1 vote to deny the Walker Drive application. The town’s dwindling sewer capacity, absence of need to change the zoning, and the sheer volume of traffic are being overlooked for the allure of dense, Gainesville-style development.

Major Issues:

Even without the Walker Drive development, and even after completion of a $2.4 million project to reduce inflow and infiltration (I&I) into the sewer system, the Town projects that it will not be able to serve all of the town and out-of-town customers and remain in compliance with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality planning limits. Any new I&I events could put the sewage treatment plant over its capacity.

Upzoning properties without a plan in place to comply with future sewer commitments puts Warrenton taxpayers at risk for:

  • Increased treatment costs
  • Flooding during and after rainstorms (overflowing manholes, sewer backups)
  • Discharge of untreated or inadequately treated waste

This project is estimated to bring 11,751 cars per day – over one quarter of the total daily traffic volume on the Eastern Bypass – to neighborhoods at the Eastern gateway of Warrenton’s Historic District.

  • Backups on the Route 29 exit ramp at Meetze Road/E. Lee Street could be more than 20 cars deep at rush hour.
    Three intersections in the small area from the US 29 ramps at Meetze Road/E. Lee Street to the site entrance on Walker Drive would need to be signalized.
  • The developer has offered to pay for the necessary improvements at only one of these intersections – their site entrance.
    The developer has proffered $200,000 — a fraction of their pro rata share —towards the $1 – 2 million roundabout needed at East Lee Street.
  • Traffic at the intersection of Hidden Creek Lane with Walker Drive would increase more than 180 percent.
    The project’s traffic study underestimates impacts by neglecting to include traffic from an adjacent housing development, Warrenton Chase, accessed via Meetze Road.

Approval of the Walker Drive project is contingent on rezoning the land from low density Industrial to high density Industrial Planned Unit Development. (I-PUD). The town greased the skids for approval of this project long before critical project details were publicly available. For example:

  1. At the developers’ request the Town changed the I-PUD zoning laws to allow 20 percent more housing in I-PUD developments.
  2. Council appears poised to grant the developer a waiver of all the land use mix requirements of the I-PUD. Only 12 percent of new space is devoted to general office use — a far cry from the 50 percent industrial use specified in the I-PUD ordinance.
  3. Although land rezonings are required to conform with the Comprehensive Plan, an entire section of the plan was omitted from the Town’s analysis. The missing section warned against upzoning properties without solving the town’s future sewage shortfall.