Ignoring Planning Commissioners, split Town Council – Names Dooley Purcellville Zoning Administrator
By Valerie Cury
At the March 9 Purcellville Town Council meeting, Don Dooley Purcellville’s newly-hired Planning and Economic Director was voted in as Zoning Administrator. The Council voted 4-3, with Vice Mayor Mary Jane Williams, and Council Members Joel Grewe, Ted Greenly, and Tip Stinnette voting yes. Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser, and Council Members Stan Milan and Chris Bertaut voted no.
The Zoning Administrator position is responsible for decision making on critical projects such as Vineyard Square. For example, that project had expired, however, the Zoning Administrator ruled that the project had “commenced and diligently pursued,” according to the determination letter dated April 6, 2015. To date no significant work has been done.
The Town Council interviewed two candidates for the ZA position – Don Dooley and Purcellville Senior Planner Andy Conlon.
Dooley moved to Purcellville from California in January of this year. He brings with him approximately 20 years of city planning experience from Whittier, and Norwalk, CA.
In his interview for the position, Dooley said that “the Zoning Administrator has to be someone who has significant experience for this position, particularly in city planning, historic preservation, economic development, [and] … very strong skills in public administration.”
Stinnette pointed out, “If I did any word search for two words ‘zoning administrator,’ those two words don’t jump out from your resume.”
In response, Dooley explained that zoning in California is a community development director position. “I understand the sole responsibility, the gravity for making effective … decisions as well as logical decisions, based on public input and collaboration with staff and the community.”
Greenly asked where Dooley would look to find information before making a decision. Dooley responded by saying he would collaborate with the Town Manager, Town Attorney, staff and Town Council. He later reiterated that point adding also that he would consult with boards and commissions. Dooley said the Zoning Administrator “is not about serving individuals; it’s about what the community’s needs are.”
Candidate Andy Conlon had lots to say about this important Zoning Administrator’s appointment.
Conlon has been working for the Town of Purcellville since 2018 as senior planner. Conlon is popular and well-supported. The Town Council received letters of endorsements from all the planning commissioners supporting him for Zoning Administrator.
Conlon noted that he has 40 years of experience, with most of it “holding the exact title of Zoning Administrator.” He had held that position for the Towns of Front Royal, Timberville, Woodstock, and Leesburg, and both Culpeper and Stafford Counties, in addition to holding positions at the same time in some towns as Town Manager and Assistant Town Manager – “100 percent of that time … in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Grewe asked Conlon what was the role of Zoning Administrator relative to the planning commission. Conlon explained, “the Zoning Administrator is focused on ministerial acts … and the role is representative of the land use regulations.”
Addressing the question of working in “a lot of places,” Conlon said, “I’ve worked in small communities, so small that I was Town Manager, and I was the only professional staff, which meant … I was plowing snow or emptying trash cans. I’ve worked in towns and I’ve worked in counties. My broad experience has given me many, many, many, valuable lessons.”
When asked which municipality he worked for in the last 40 years most closely tracks with Purcellville, Conlon said, “The Town of Leesburg, because it was similar to Purcellville” when he worked there in 1987. Leesburg has both separate departments of planning and zoning.
Conlon said that the role of Zoning Administrator is not visionary; it is not this is the way I would like to see things. It is the interpretation of the letter and spirit of the law as written.”
Bertaut asked what would he do differently for Purcellville? “Take a bad experience from the past, what should we not do?”
Conlon said he would “make sure we have an adequate maintenance and bonding program. Right now, what we have is in rough shape. Records are not well kept at this point.”
Bertaut also asked how the Zoning Administrator could help with economic development for the Town. Conlon said, “Economic development and historic preservation, as much as I love it, are not primary concerns of a zoning administrator – they are the primary concerns of the planning side of this organization.”
Milan asked Conlon what was his most challenging decision. Conlon said when he was the Zoning Administrator in Culpepper, “a gentleman had an illegal dump site,” and when he visited the property, the man put a shot gun in his chest. He had to tell him what was permitted, what wasn’t, and how to remediate it.
When asked how would the Zoning Administrator decisions impact economic development, Conlon said, “If laws are counter to the Town’s best interest, then they need to be amended … through the Town Council.”
When Mayor Fraser asked what needed to be changed within the Town, Conlon said there should be a clear definition of what are the roles and responsibilities of staff members.
“With Patrick Sullivan leaving nearly a year and a half ago, and the department being myself and the planning technician position, to now bringing a new staff member on board, there needs to be a clear statement of roles and responsibilities of these two professional positions.”
Conlon said he viewed “these two positions as co-equal positions in responsibility and general compensation.
“Zoning Administration and planning are not the same; they shouldn’t really be in the same department … the Zoning Administrator position has a very different focus than the planning legislative position.”
Milan made a motion to appoint Conlon; and Grewe made an amended motion appointing Dooley. In the end, the vote to appoint Dooley passed 4-3.
The following are the assigned duties of the Zoning Administrator, according to the Purcellville Municipal Code:
Any land-use or zoning determination that is formally requested by the public, in writing, to the Planning Dept.;
All pending administrative decisions for proposed projects that would adversely impact the historic integrity of an individually eligible or designated historic resource, including contributing historic resources within an eligible or designated historic district;
Any zoning administrative decision that are requires CLOMR (Conditional Letter of Map Revision) or LOMR (Letter of Map Revision) under the FEMA national flood zone process;
Any proposed land-use activity that is inconsistent with the Town’s current Comprehensive Plan, but consistent with Purcellville Zoning Code;
Any pending zoning determination that would potentially increase existing residential density; and, interpretation of conditions of approval for approved land-use entitlements that are unclear or are contested by the project applicant due to a lack of specificity, after the appeal period for an approved project ends.