Warrenton Comprehensive Plan Gives Developers a Free Hand
Responding to a growing number of residents rising in opposition to Warrenton’s developer-friendly comprehensive plan, the town has pushed to December a showdown vote before Warrenton Town Council. Until residents registered their objections with the Planning Commission, it was on a fast track for a September council vote.
The delay gives town planners and their consultants time to address glaring omissions in the original document.
The overarching unanswered question is this: Why must Warrenton’s small-town charm and history be pushed aside by developers who can build what they want when they want? Why must residential Warrenton become collateral damage as developers shape the town of their dreams.
Developers wished for a green light to construct taller, larger buildings.
Wish granted: the plan raises density projections and allows four to six story buildings.
Developers wished to avoid the approval process that includes public hearings.
Wish granted: the plan authorizes by-right development, so builders can start construction without having to answer questions about size, scope, design or suitability.
Please get involved by writing or calling the mayor and Warrenton Town Council to demand that the comprehensive plan reduce population density and rescind the proposal for by-right development. Go here to contact Warrenton elected officials.
What the Plan Does
If the Planning Commission rubber stamps the comp plan, and Town Council goes along, brace yourself for:
2,102 new residential units
310,000 square feet of new commercial space
480 business class hotel rooms (120 of which are redeveloped)
Runaway construction of by-right of mixed use buildings
5-6 story buildings
The Timber Fence Parkway
A Southern Bypass
Neighborhood streets converted to through-streets
Additional sewer plant capacity
Search for water to meet daily peak demand
Conversion of the majority of our last two large greenfield parcels of industrial land into housing
Among the many unanswered questions are cost projections for the Timber Fence Parkway and a Southern Bypass, sewer system upgrades, water supply to meet peak daily needs, and an unknown list of "amenities." A fiscal model intended to assess the impacts of a larger population on town law enforcement and emergency services is riddled with too many soft numbers to make results reliable. Also unknown is whether Warrenton taxes will increase to make up for shortfalls if the plan fails to meet expectations.
The CFFC Warrenton Task Force is studying the nearly 500 page plan, sending comments to the Planning Commission, and posting findings to citizensforfauquier.org.
Please post your comments to the Planning Commission site, and ask your neighbors to do the same.
July 24, 2020
The number of written comments the town planning commission and its staff received before Tuesday night’s public hearing on Warrenton 2040, the draft comprehensive plan.
Of those, 51 opposed the plan, some of its elements and/or the timeframe for public debate.
Opponents most often cited the potential population growth — up to 5,000 more residents over the next two decades, planning for a western bypass, the potential scale of new commercial buildings and/or the potential cost of public services, including water and sewer system expansions.
Eight people testified at Tuesday night’s public hearing, with three supporting and five opposing the draft plan.
The planning commission will conduct a “work session” on the draft at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, and could vote on a recommendation to the town council Aug. 18.
Shedding Light on Development By Right
Warrenton’s comprehensive plan draft calls for the creation of mixed-use Character Districts using a streamlined by right zoning for a large range of land uses including nearly all areas currently zoned for industrial and commercial.
By right development refers to projects that are permitted under their local zoning and do not require any legislative action by the Town Council or the Board of Zoning Appeals. Such projects are approved administratively by town staff and do not require public hearings.
In practice, if a developer wants to build a mixed-use structure of residential with a commercial component and it matches the zoning use of the particular parcel, town staff would be able to approve the project without taking it before the Town Council of the Planning Commission.
Why, you may ask, would the town of Warrenton ever want to have development by-right which in turn eliminates public hearings? The answer comes from the Demographic and Housing Analysis White Paper from RKG Associates at the back of the comprehensive plan draft. They contend the Town’s land use policies make it difficult to develop higher density housing and the entitlement process to be very time consuming.
Cutting the public out of the land use process makes it easier for developers to build the higher-density, five and six story buildings the plan allows.
Piedmont Environmental Council Questions Comp Plan
July 15th, 2020 Warrenton Planning Commission
Warrenton Town Hall
18 Court Street
Warrenton, VA 20186
Re: Draft Warrenton 2040
Plan Dear Chairman Helander and Members of the Warrenton Planning Commission,
Piedmont Environmental Council is a non-profit land conservation and land use advocacy group headquartered in the Warrenton community. Our mission is to promote and protect the northern Piedmont’s rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty. We have been following the Warrenton Comprehensive planning process closely and have expressed concerns to staff along the way about “by-right” zoning, ambiguous mixes of uses, and rezoning of most of the industrial and commercial areas to mixed use with residential. Now that we have reviewed the draft plan in its entirety, our questions remain unanswered and our concerns have grown.
PEC supports high quality sustainable development, especially redevelopment and infill, in our service districts and the Town. Many parts of the draft are great, including a robust plan for improving walkability and cyclist access throughout the town. However, the plan outlines a new growth trajectory for Warrenton that contains contradictions and leaves important questions unanswered. It fails to incentivize redevelopment and infill over greenfield development and does little to incentivize needed affordable housing. Also concerning is the eagerness of the Town to rush the draft forward citing developer’s timelines as if this were a development application rather than a plan outlining a community vision.
There is a lot in the 513 page document first published on June 15th and then updated on July 2nd. To address it in an organized manner our comments are broken into topics rather than by chapter because several of the issues extend across several chapters. All page numbers referenced in this comment letter are referring to the July 2nd draft.
Read the rest of the letter HERE.
Traffic "Mitigation" in the Warrenton’s New Comp Plan
To alleviate the traffic that will result from the major commercial and residential development/redevelopment in the “Character Districts” (particularly in the “Experience Broadview” and “New Town Warrenton” districts) the Comp Plan includes unsatisfactory solutions:
Timber Fence Parkway on the north side of Town & Southern Parkway on the south side of Town
Connect existing neighborhood streets and roads to allow through-traffic
A Western Bypass - the Timber Fence and Southern Parkways:
Comp Plan identifies this Western Bypass presumably as a necessary answer to the unprecedented and unassessed levels of traffic generated by a 50% population growth. Comp Plan consultants also would have us believe that per person traffic levels will decrease noticeably because there might be a convenience store, an office or a coffee shop within walking distance in each Character District.
The plan fails to line up timeframes for construction of the parkways with construction of new housing. Parkways of this scale take many years to plan and build, obtain right-of-way, conduct environmental studies. Even if we wanted these roadways they would not be in place for many years after Warrenton comes under siege from new traffic.
The plan does not include any cost information on either parkway. Some information is needed on potential maintenance costs, which the town is responsible for. The Comp Plan is also silent on the potential share of the significant preconstruction and construction costs associated with these projects.
The Plan does not include specifics on where the Timber Fence Parkway would run, but previous plans for sent it straight through the Olde Gold Cup and Silver Cup neighbohoods, and up against Rady Park.
The path of the Southern Parkway is also undetermined, but in its only possible route is through existing communities and lands in conservation easement. Graphics in the Comp Plan depict the Southern Parkway as a multiuse trail. Using a multiuse trail as a placeholder for a roadway goes beyond a lapse in transparency - it is disingenuous.
Improved “circulation and system-wide connectivity”, i.e. Sending Overflow Traffic thru Neighborhoods
Comp Plan calls for current neighborhood streets to be used as cut-throughs for traffic trying to avoid the congested corridors, Broadview Ave and Business 29.
Neighborhood streets and roads will be connected to improve “circulation and system-wide connectivity”. While the Plan states cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets should be discouraged, it actively encourages and creates cut-throughs.
Streets targeted for the connection plan include: North Hill Drive, Winchester Street, Roebling Street, Jackson Street, Moser Road, and Frazier Road
To reduce through-traffic created by these Warrenton Taxpayer funded new road connections, the Plan also wants us to pay for traffic calming and safety measures, ie. bump-outs and speed bumps. Of course these techniques are not designed to reduce traffic and will not prevent cut-through traffic from using neighborhood streets
Paying for It?
The town's scheme to allow mixed use development by right in the Character districts (which comprise about 40% of Warrenton) REMOVES any likelihood that developers will offset the cost impacts of the traffic they create on existing roads. No proffers, no developer-funding traffic studies. Why do we want to pay for it?
Hidden Costs Burden Warrenton Comprehensive Plan
What will it cost Warrenton taxpayers, present and future, for:
Sewer plant expansion to 3.0 MGD
Reactivation and operation of Well #4
Acquisition of new water sources or Reservoir Expansion to meet peak daily water demand
The Timber Fence Parkway
A Southern Bypass
Growing the Town’s Economic Development Department
Stopping additional Inflow and Infiltration into our sewer system
A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) feasibility study
Loss of proffers
Intersection "improvements" and traffic mitigation
Increased road maintenance for 50 percent more traffic
If the plan is adopted, Fauquier taxpayers will be burdened with supporting expanded services:
County park and recreation facilities
Cost sharing for state road network
and how much else?
CFFC Raises Questions About Warrenton Comp Plan
We urge everyone in Fauquier County, especially Warrenton residents, to pay close attention to the Warrenton Planning Commission as it evaluates the 437-page Draft Comprehensive Plan. To put it simply, if the plan is adopted Warrenton may become something very different from the small town we know and love.
A board-level task force from Citizens for Fauquier County, Fauquier’s oldest conservation nonprofit, has found that implementing the plan over 20 years opens the door to:
50% increase in the town’s population
2,102 new residential units
310,000 square feet of commercial space
360 additional hotel rooms
The plan makes it easy for developers due to streamlining by-right approval of mixed use developments. And Warrenton becomes more attractive to developers because buildings as tall as six stories will be allowed in some locations, along with higher density in select districts.
Greater population produces greater traffic, not to mention motorists from surrounding growth areas who converge on Warrenton. To address traffic congestion, the plan envisions building the Timber Fence Parkway and a new Southern Bypass. Also on the table is connecting neighborhood streets to enable through-traffic.
The Warrenton Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for July 21. For more information, go here https://www.warrentonva.gov/government/departments/planning_and_community_development/comprehensive_plan.php.
Impact of this plan goes beyond the town limits. What happens in Warrenton affects all of Fauquier County.
The CFFC Warrenton Task Force continues to study the planning document to assess the costs, traffic, design standards and infrastructure requirements, especially water and sewer. For the latest on the comp plan, return to citizensforfauquier.org and visit our Facebook page.