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.
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:
- At the developers’ request the Town changed the I-PUD zoning laws to allow 20 percent more housing in I-PUD developments.
- 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.
- 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.