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Recent Hearing Highlights Public Opposition

From The Fauquier Times -

The crowd that attended the Warrenton Town Council meeting March 9 filled the meeting room (with chairs spaced for COVID) and spilled out onto the Main Street sidewalk, where speakers and a screen allowed another half dozen or so attendees to view the proceedings.

Seventeen speakers – 16 of them opposed to the plan -- addressed council members about the revised comprehensive plan draft during the public hearing segment of the meeting.

Plan Warrenton 2040 was recommended for approval by the town planning commission on Feb. 16.

On March 9, town council members for the most part did not themselves comment on the comprehensive plan, either at their work session earlier in the day or during their evening meeting. They did vote to leave the public hearing open for 30 days, so that residents will have another opportunity to express themselves at the council’s April 13 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Lynne Bell, representing the Boys and Girls Club of Fauquier and the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce, was the lone voice speaking in favor of the plan – an 81-page document with hundreds of pages of ancillary information provided in hyperlinks. The plan will serve as “the official document tying together community features with the overall vision for its future,” the plan’s opening statement says.

Bell said she felt the plan “allows the market to drive the plan.” She said, “We need to provide housing, jobs and walkability and to fill the gaps in our local economy.”

Jimena Espinoza was the first speaker of the evening. The themes she raised were echoed by those who followed: the plan calls for too-rapid population growth; the plan does not adequately explain how the water and sewer needs of new residents would be met and the two bypasses included in the plan – the Timber Fence Parkway and a southern bypass – would be detrimental to the town and its residents.

Plan Warrenton 2040 states that both bypasses should be considered as a potential regional solution to increased traffic through the town as the result of new housing developments planned for areas west of Fauquier. “The completion of the proposed Timber Fence Parkway could ultimately provide a connection between western Warrenton and U.S. 17,” the plan explains.

About the southern bypass, the plan says: “The immediate intent of the parkway concept is for the development of a multi-use trail to provide recreation and mobility for bicycle, pedestrian, and equestrian transportation while serving to preserve the opportunity and right-of-way for a continuous parkway around eastern/southern Warrenton, if needed, in the long-term future. Similar to Timber Fence Parkway, the ultimate Southern Parkway would be limited access (with a parallel multi-use path) and adjacent conservation easements.”

Espinoza also objected to the fact that the plan envisions no addition of affordable housing; she said that she can’t afford to live in Warrenton and believes the plan would only drive up the cost to live in town.

Melissa Wiedenfeld added that the new growth suggested in the plan would “destroy Warrenton’s small-town atmosphere,” another common thread among the speakers. She said the plan seemed to be written by developers, judging by the height of buildings to be allowed and the amount of new housing.

David Gibson also said that he believes the plan as it’s written favors developers’ interests over current residents. “Don’t leave it to the developers. Maintain control of this,” he said.

Julie Bolthouse, Fauquier land use representative for Piedmont Environmental Council in Warrenton, has been weighing in the comp plan through every step of its development and submitted another letter to council members before the meeting.

“What we heard residents asking for during this process was for reinvestment into existing neighborhoods, creation of more affordable housing, investment in improving Broadview Avenue, more recreational amenities, and an emphasis on attracting more employment, services, restaurants and accommodations,” she said.

“What the consultants provided, though, was twisted data describing Warrenton as being unbalanced because it has too many jobs and not enough houses, a fiscal analysis that showed residential development as profitable for the town, and showed Warrenton as failing economically because the growth in employment pales in comparison to Loudoun and Prince William counties.

“ … Land currently planned for industrial and commercial was replanned to accommodate a range of housing types integrated into a mix of uses. The plan then offers recommendations of density bonuses for incorporating things that should be required in new development, employment areas and parks. Water and sewer would be developed to meet a long-term residential growth target of 5,000 new residents. To accommodate increases in traffic a western bypass would be built.

“Taking a step back from the Plan Warrenton 2040 vision, the town currently has about 730 residential units in the pipeline. There are also several properties along Broadview Avenue that seem ripe for redevelopment. This right here could accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 new residents while retaining land currently planned for industrial and commercial development. Public investments into Broadview Avenue, which is already started, could help make this happen quicker. Small pocket parks, outdoor dining and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods could be incorporated into these redevelopments, building the walkable environment envisioned in this plan.”

Bolthouse concluded, “The town doesn’t have to give away everything to developers in incentives to encourage residential development … And the town does not have to be one of the fastest-growing places in Virginia to be a place that people love to live, work, go to school and recreate.”

Jessica Matthews followed this message closely. She emphasized that instead of focusing on attracting new residents, the plan should first serve the current residents of the town, “If this is an aspirational plan, then the core of its aspiration should be to improve the economic and social lives of those who have chosen to make this place their home …

“Not only does the plan reflect too little attention to the needs of existing communities, but it also shows too little concern for the effects of new development – particularly traffic and housing – on old, established communities. Allowing development by right without requiring rezoning could easily lead to overstretched water, sewer and transportation resources without the opportunity for readjustment.

“We only have to drive a short way north, to Loudoun County, to see the catastrophic results of too much of this kind of growth, too fast, and with too little concern for what is there that is special and worth improving to be reminded of how fast this sort of growth can overtake and destroy once beautiful land and special towns.” (Matthews is a member of the board of directors of the Piedmont Journalism Foundation, the non-profit that owns the Fauquier Times.)

The image of Warrenton as a quiet enclave vastly preferable to bustling Northern Virginia was one that was reinforced by many of the speakers. David Norden, a former town council member himself, shared, “Recently I needed something I couldn’t get in Warrenton, so I ran up to Gainesville. Gainesville is a cesspool of traffic, ugly buildings and signage and too many people. It is nice that it is only 15 minutes away and then you can return to the sanctuary of Warrenton.

“ … We don’t need to be like every other town to survive. We will survive, even thrive, because we are better than every other town.”

He said, “Warrenton is a wonderful town, for more than two centuries it has grown organically, and it is the envy of almost everyone.

“We don’t need to apply everything someone learned in urban design school here … and we don’t need character districts.

“Warrenton has plenty of character all by itself. Real character, not manufactured character. Warrenton still has a sense of community. … converting the last remaining parcels of industrial land into more strip centers and high-rise apartment buildings is the last thing we need. It will create unsustainable growth producing unwanted traffic and higher taxes to pay for all the infrastructure.”

Wendy Campbell was one of many speakers who spoke against the inclusion of the Timber Fence Parkway in the comp plan, saying vehicles exceeding the speed limit on the road would endanger residents.

Holly Sloan, who lives in the Old Gold Cup subdivision, spoke against the southern bypass. She said she was “devastated at the thought of a bypass through our backyard. … Warrenton is a wonderful small town. We love it. A bypass would bring trucks, noise and safety issues.”

Don Loock expressed the same fear about the Timber Fence Parkway, saying such a through road would endanger children and disrupt activities at Rady Park or the WARF.

Karen Egazarian, who lives on Gold Cup Drive in Warrenton said, “I first heard of the bypass 12 years ago. I was against it then. And the neighborhoods [that would be affected by it] are even more established now than they were then. … The bypass is to help outside communities and destroy ours.”

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