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:

Sewer
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

Traffic
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.

Zoning
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.

Blackthorne Inn Resort Project Alarms Rural Upperville

By Les Cheek

The chief of planning for Fauquier County said this week she still has “a lot of concerns” over the proposed plan to turn Upperville’s Blackthorne Inn into a boutique resort that will include a 250-seat event center.

Following recent state and county agency reviews of a revised proposal submitted by the new owner, the Easton Porter Group based in Charlottesville, Holly Meade, the county’s chief of planning, indicated that “a number of things still must be addressed for a project like this in a rural area. It’s the overall scope, the traffic, the noise and the environmental impact, the water supply and drain fields.”

Meade has received all state agency reviews of the plans for the 57-acre property off Route 50—the state’s health and emergency services departments—and said she expects to receive them by the end of this week.

She also said there has been considerable interest in the project both from residents in the neighboring Greystone community as well as other county residents and environmental and conservation organizations like the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Goose Creek Association.

“I think there’s a lot of concern in the community based on the number of calls I’ve received,” Meade said. “Several a week.”

Greystone is spread over a 2,000-acre tract that includes 12 property owners with parcels of 50 or more acres. Three of those properties border the 57-acre resort and the others are all within a mile of its entrance.

Kevin Ramundo, a Greystone resident who remains skeptical about Easton Porter’s ultimate plans for the property, also is among those leading the community’s effort to assess the plans for the proposed resort. Eventually, the project must be approved by the county board of supervisors.

He and others in the community have studied the available state agency reviews and “in my opinion, they demonstrably indicate that this is an incredibly inappropriate operation for an area that is zoned rural/agriculture. There are 10 different aspects of the operation that compare with what the board (of supervisors) approved in 2014 for the previous owners. It indicates that what is proposed (by Easton Porter) is two to three times larger than what was approved by the board in 2014.”

Ramundo, a past vice president of communications for the Raytheon Company, prepared a chart based on the agency reviews that spells out a number of increases from what the board allowed three years ago. Among them are an increase in large events from 30 in 2014 to 64 in the latest proposal, an increase from 3,600 maximum annual guests at large events to 11,000, an increase from seven structures to 24, and from 17 bedrooms to 38.

“In going over the reviews, these agencies have pointed out discrepancies and omissions and some errors,” Ramundo said. “The setback requirements for a road are ignored. The traffic issue is significant but there is nothing about the volume of traffic, the timing of the traffic and how some of their estimates were even arrived at…On the water issue, the developer says they’ll use 9,049 gallons a day….The agency review staff says it could be 2 1/2 times that amount.”

Easton Porter founder and owner, Dean Porter Andrews, said of the state agency reviews that “I would characterize it as more questions and clarifications that have to be addressed. We have narrowed the scope and we’ve handled the key issues on water use and water treatment.

“I do understand the concerns about it being a rural area, I totally understand it,” he said. “Everything our company has done is in an interesting place—historic places, properties in conservation easement. I get it. That was one of the attractions of Blackthorne. It’s in a beautiful area of rural protection. People who will come there want to experience this area.”

Porter also indicated that even by adding up the total square footage of what his company proposes, “it only covers about two percent of the property…My concern at this point is that some people are going out and trying to come up with fear-mongering tactics…If you sense an amount of frustration in my voice, it is because I’ve shared every single piece of this with everyone…The way we’ve built this company is to have a transparent agenda.”

Andrews said he plans to be in the Upperville area at the end of next week and is open to meeting with local residents and groups like the PEC and Goose Creek Association. Ramundo said he and his fellow residents would welcome another meeting as well. Andrews did have a session with Greystone property owners last November.

“Hopefully, we can have a substantive discussion, ask questions and get answers,” Ramundo said. “This is not just about Greystone. What I’m hearing in our own outreach is that a lot of other people are interested, too. We’re trying to educate people so they know what’s going on.”

Once Easton Porter amends its final proposal, county planning chief Meade said the next step will be a public hearing, followed by a planning commission recommendation to the board, with another public hearing and then a final vote by the Board of Supervisors.

Lori Keenan McGuinness, who lives in Rectortown and is the Fauquier County chair of the Goose Creek Association, has also read the agency reviews and said “we’re cautiously optimistic” about the planned resort.

“The quality of their other properties has been good,” she said of Easton Porter. “It would be a welcome addition if it can be consistent with the neighborhood and deal with these concerns. If they’re sincere in this, I think they can meet all the concerns, but they still need to answer some of these questions.

“We are concerned about the size and scope of it—the number of events, the size of the events, the water issues… I’m not going to say no way Jose… I believe in trust, but verify. The county also has to be careful about setting precedent… Some of these things definitely have to be massaged.”

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CFFC: Making a Difference for 50 Years

By Chris Bonner

Since the 1950s, developers have looked at productive, agricultural Southern Fauquier and the mountains, forests and pastures of Northern Fauquier and imagined a paradise for commuters seeking clean air, clean water, dark skies, less hassle and lower taxes.

And for just as long people in Fauquier have been resisting development that would erode the rural character of the county and turn it into just another suburb of strip malls and tract houses. Since 1968, Citizens for Fauquier County, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, has been reminding residents and, especially, decision-makers in government, that growth should be confined to service districts in conformity with the 50-year-old Comprehensive Plan.

Not long ago, Loudoun County was like Fauquier — rolling hills, open fields, fertile soil and a sense of place. Today Loudoun is gated communities, helipads, a furiously growing school system, expanding police and fire departments and sharply rising taxes to pay for it all. Loudoun’s board became development cheerleaders in one election, and the county will never be the same.

Fauquier’s residential growth has been incremental rather than explosive, in part because prudent landowners have placed a commonwealth-leading 100,000 acres into perpetual easement. And the county has embraced the purchase of development rights program to protect Fauquier’s farming base.

Fauquier’s success in curbing promiscuous development is a function of the political will of the people expressed through the board of supervisors. The current board is informed and even-handed when it comes to managing the public trust that is Fauquier County. While the CFFC is non-partisan, you may be sure that many of our members are actively involved in politics.

The CFFC is effective because our members are informed and involved. Experts on planning, zoning and development study complex proposals each month, attend planning and supervisors’ meetings and make our voices heard. CFFC’s highly respected Land Use Report, analyzing the pros and cons of development proposals, is distributed to the supervisors and is available to everyone who signs up at citizensforfauquier.org.