Expanding Purcellville’s Historic District –public hearing July 15

By Valerie Cury

The Town of Purcellville’s Historic Corridor Overlay District, which was created in 2005, is made up of parts of Main Street, North 21st  Street, North 23rd Street and South 32nd Street. This District is meant to protect the Town’s architectural and historical character, protect and preserve buildings, and ensure that new development is in keeping with Purcellville’s small-town character.

Currently, the HCOD does not include most of Purcellville’s historically contributing structures.
Over the past year, the Planning Commission has been updating the Town’s Zoning Ordinance so it is in alignment with the Town’s newly adopted Comprehensive Plan. One of the goals of the Plan is to protect historic properties which individually and collectively contribute to the Town’s small-town character.
The question is how do you protect historic properties from demolition.

No additional burdensg

The current goals of the Planning Commission are to bring all of the Town’s relevant historic properties into the Historic District, and to discourage demolition of historic properties.

The purpose of the Overlay District is not to prevent nor limit the freedom of a property owner to renovate properties in Town.
Those rewriting the zoning ordinance to bring it in line with the new Comp Plan do not want to change this. So, existing property owners do not have to go through anything different than they would normally go through currently. If they want to change windows, do an addition, change a roof or paint the house, for example, nothing will change. Renovations are at the discretion of a property owner.

A property has to be at least 50 years old. As proposed, anyone with a qualifying property could obtain an Historic District plaque at no charge. Also as proposed, the Board of Architectural Review could offer a no fee review of a property addition at no charge, but it would be voluntary.

At issue, the power to demolish, no more, no less

There is currently no protection against unfettered demolition, but in the HCOD, no one would be able to destroy a structure for a year, and either the Town or anyone else would have the opportunity to buy the property at market value. If nobody buys the property, then it could be torn down.

The Planning Commission has repeatedly asked staff to bring it a draft ordinance unchanged from the current one. Use the same criteria as what exists today, has been the Planning Commission’s consistent message. Staff has repeatedly presented a draft that was much more cumbersome. 

At the June 3 Planning Commission meeting, Chair Nedim Ogelman opened the discussion by reiterating that the only thing the Commission needed to focus on was the demolition issue.
With respect to the draft ordinance, since it was supposed to reflect the current one, Ogelman said the draft ordinance should reflect what is in the current ordinance regarding the Historic Corridor Overlay District  – “no more, no less.”
However, the Commission had to spend a few hours eliminating additional restrictions that staff had proposed. 

This is about preservation, not paint colors

Ogelman said that when the Town tried to have a more robust form of preservation “people did not want it.”
“Our citizens are not used to experiencing those set of rules” he said of residents who live in the Historic Corridor Overlay District and they are not used to homeowners association rules. 

“… What distinguishes them from other parts of Town is that they are not in homeowners associations … so by putting any kind of transaction costs and other costs onto those houses” – you are going against what citizens want, he said.  

Planning Commissioner Nan Frobes said, “Residents in Purcellville would not be comfortable with these additional restrictions …” This is too restrictive.”

She pointed out that the intent of the meeting should focus on the demolition of older buildings, “and not micromanage the particulars of how a person handles their property.”
Going forward with the zoning ordinance, she indicated, “I would go with what already exists.” 

As of press time the public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 15.

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