How will Purcellville age?
By Andrea Gaines
Life in a small Town.
As with life on an old farm, it can be both beautiful and sad.
The beautiful part is represented by the things that many of us recognize as “the way it used to be.” Old farms, cows mooing at you over the fence, homes, walkable communities, people you know greeting you at your favorite store, home-grown goods and services, pretty places with a soothing atmosphere and a sense-of-place, a feeling of security and familiarity, old barns freshly painted and repurposed as restaurants.
The sad part is the absence of the old sign that read “Quality Service Since 1890,” no parking, every-day chain-dominated goods and services, a boarded-up window one day, and a neon sign the next.
People in a fast-growing, fast-changing place like Purcellville have likely experienced both the beauty and the sadness.
And, in Purcellville’s historic downtown they are today facing a choice.
Do we continue with the strategy of preserving the best of the past and adding the new where appropriate … or do we simply demolish the place and start over?
This brings us to the small town tragedy unraveling on two of Purcellville’s most historic downtown streets – 21st Street, where Magnolia’s and Nichols Hardware are located, and Hatcher Avenue, which parallels 21st Street and crosses the W&OD Trail.
Will Purcellville age well?
The biggest mistake people in a small town make is that they don’t believe they have a choice in the manner in which their beloved Town will age, or mature.
In fact, two massive development projects making the rounds in Purcellville right now would leave citizens with no choice in the matter. Those two projects are the never-say-die Vineyard Square and Trail’s End, either one of which would make historic downtown Purcellville unrecognizable.
Developers for the projects – Casey Chapman, his brother Sam Chapman, and their friend and business partner Aaron McCleary – addressed their vision for downtown Purcellville in a recent media interview. They are, notes the article, “the next generation” of Father John Chapman’s companies, and are “launching a few projects of their own.”
“Their latest undertaking,” continues the article, is Trail’s End, and they are proud to have gotten the Town’s Board of Architectural Review to “approve” the project’s design.
But, a site plan for Trail’s End – which would show how it would impact its residential, Hatcher Avenue neighborhood, why it’s prudent to demolish three old homes, and the wisdom of locating a 54,285 square-foot, three-story building in a residential neighborhood – has not been submitted.
Please go away
The Vineyard Square project (an approximately 150,000-square-foot mixed-use building for commercial and condominium space) is even more massive and disruptive, with the developers still seeking financing, and going this way and that to keep the project going for some five to ten years, now.
Is this how citizens – old and new – want to see Purcellville age?
The developers laid out their vision for historic downtown Purcellville in that recent high-profile media interview.
This is, simply, “infill” they say. The perfect replacement, for “vacant or under-used parcels within areas that are already developed.” Well, not really.
The two projects, it is argued, are replacing an aging historic downtown with new stuff, avoiding Town annexations, reviving “under-utilized” space, to “better utilize” an “already developed downtown.”
But, again, is this how citizens – old and new – want to see Purcellville age?
Today’s center of historic downtown, with a few gathering places, and sections of open space, Nichols Hardware, a beautiful old barn that is now the successful Magnolia’s at the Mill restaurant, and the lovely old train station looks pretty good to us.
The developers of Vineyard Square and Trail’s End say the area is “in desperate need of rebirth.” But does rebirth need to be so big, so disruptive, and so destructive?
The developers are also asking that the streetscape that has been in place for well over a hundred years be changed, “extending” O Street so they can get the density they want, at great cost to the taxpayers.
The developers say that, on some issues, they are just waiting for “demolition permits to be signed by town staff … [that] The mayor and the county have on record expressed support for more housing options similar to the project we are proposing. We are trying to be part of the solution.”
In truth, particularly vis a vis the mayor, no such “support” is forthcoming. Please. Slow the heck down!
Development Details: The “Vineyard Square” development
In September 2020, the Blue Ridge Leader reported that “Developers” were seeking a “last minute redo” of the Vineyard Square project. As we reported at the time, “Trying to beat the expiration date of their approved project, Vineyard Square, the developers of the project are looking to change their plans from ‘luxury living in the heart of Virginia’s wine country’ to ‘workforce housing.’ This, [we noted] according to a meeting requested by a Vineyard Square representative, Casey Chapman …”
Instead of the approved 40 housing units [our article continued], the Chapmans are proposing 70 to 80 units – double the approved number … The project – which has pitted Vineyard Square developers against downtown Purcellville historians, conservationists, and the public for years – now faces an expiration deadline of Feb. 16, 2021 for their Certificates of Design Approval. If developers do not start the project by that date, then the Vineyard Square plan will be void.
The “Trail’s End” development
As the BRL reported in October, Casey Chapman and partners have presented a rendering of a second major new residential/commercial development on Hatcher Avenue. This one is located near where Hatcher meets the W&OD Trail. The area marks the start of the old part of Town, and is just about behind Magnolia’s.
Called Trail’s End, the project would demolish three homes on Hatcher and replace them with commercial on the bottom floor, and dense residential on the top two stories.
Chapman is also asking that the old street and avenue configurations in the area, present pretty much since Purcellville was founded, be changed to speed vehicle access to the dozens and dozens of new residences and businesses that he hopes to bring in as buyers and renters.
A false choice
In his recent media interview, Sam Chapman said, “The developers also see the project as contributing to the Agri-tourism industry in western Loudoun … We are creating a gathering place. Hopefully by doing these projects it creates a reason to come into downtown Purcellville and spend more time … You have two options, you can either annex land into town, which is sprawl, or you can choose infill development. We chose very intentionally not to go out and buy farmland and to focus on infill development.”
The two options described here, are, indeed, a false choice. Purcellville can continue to revitalize its historic downtown, for sure – but, by replicating and growing the Magnolia’s, train station, open space, etc. scenario … not by razing everything and starting over with development projects like Trail’s End and Vineyard Square – aka, Anywhere USA.
A recent Town staff report said this of Trail’s End:
“The scale is out of character for the streetscape in the immediate vicinity of Hatcher Avenue. The proposed single three-story building has much greater mass than the three individual principle structure it seeks to replace.”
Treasured history from www.loudounhistory.org
Purcellville was part of a land grant by Lord Fairfax in the 1700s. Men named Dillion, and Vickers, and Taylor were the early “business prospectors” here, with at least one opening an “ordinary” – a combination store and inn. (www.loudounhistory.org)
One New York Times correspondent didn’t see the appeal, writing, in 1862, that the Town “cannot be dignified with the title of a village, consisting of a few straggling houses [on the turnpike heading west from] Leesburgh” [original spelling] …
Stagecoaches arrived in 1841, a railroad stop came in 1874. Town public schools date back to 1883. The Town suffered a number of devastating fires in the early nineteen hundreds.
Magnolia’s at the Mill restaurant has taken over the original Orchard Grass Seed Mill owned by Contee Adams Lynn, Sr., (aka “Mr. Orchid Grass”). The grass seed was used as packing material (including for WWII munitions), and animal feed, among other things. The old railroad depot, now the end of the WO&D bike trail, was once the next to last stop on Washington & Old Dominion Railroad.
“Contee Adams loved people and history. One of his favorite reminiscences was when, as a teenager, he picked up John Singleton Mosby at the Marshall railroad station and drove the aged Confederate veteran to the Cobbler Mountains, a few miles southwest of Marshall. Mosby was trying to remember where he had hidden a mountain howitzer, and neither could I and a search party in the late 1980s [find it] …”