– By Andrea Gaines
In an ongoing effort to reduce its substantial debt, and make key publicly owned assets more productive, the Town of Purcellville is moving forward with a creatively ambitious plan for what is known as the Aberdeen property.
Purcellville has some $125 million in town-owned assets, including the Aberdeen property. The Town purchased the 193-acre parcel in 2010 for $2.1 million. The goal of the purchase was to increase Town water capacity. The property is located near public water treatment facilities northwest of Town on Short Hill Road.
In 2017, the Town restructured the approximately $23 million in debt that had been burdening the Water and Sewer Utility Fund ($20 million) and the Parks and Recreation Fund ($3 million). Under Mayor Kwasi Fraser’s leadership, Purcellville has also begun to shift its revenue and financing strategy from one which relied almost exclusively on future growth – servicing its growing debt, etc. through new water and sewer hookup fees, for example – to one which relies on dramatically improved, non-tax revenue from Town-owned assets such as Aberdeen.
Said Fraser, “With our recent debt restructuring, we reduced the revenue restrictions on key properties, and are now able to realize substantial, recurring revenue based on public/private partnership initiatives. Essentially, we have taken a non-performing asset and repositioned it to generate revenue. This revenue can be used to offset water and sewer fees, resulting in lower rates for our citizens.”
Thanks to a new public/private partnership recently set in motion for Fireman’s Field, projections for income from that Town-owned asset are way up. And, Town plans for the Aberdeen property are being advanced with the same objective in mind. Those plans include:
- Converting a portion of the property to hops production, through a cooperative arrangement with several local hops farmers. Dragon Hops, in Bluemont, has already expressed interest in the initiative.
- Partnering with local conservation organizations to transform portions of the property into a wildlife preserve – replacing invasive species with native plants, increasing song bird populations, better managing the deer populations, and restoring the streams, creeks, and other water sources on the property.
- Restoring historic assets on the property, including a Federal-style brick house built by the Potts family, which dates back to the 1800s.
Serving as a test site for the national policies that the FAA is developing for private/civilian use of unmanned aircraft systems, or mini drones. Localities such as Purcellville are being invited to participate in a pilot program to study how drone technology – of keen interest to private sector manufacturing companies – can be used for things such as “precision agriculture,” infrastructure inspection, and public safety.
According to Fraser, the Aberdeen property presents the taxpayers of Purcellville with some unique opportunities, taking advantage of small town values such as fiscal responsibility, the promotion of traditional economies such as agriculture, and resource and historic preservation.
“The land is under a conservation easement,” said Fraser, “and, as such, all activities will be focused on agricultural and recreational use. There are several areas on the property that can present wetlands-modeling opportunities.”
“In addition to the hops farming and potential precision agriculture initiatives,” Fraser continued, “we will be working with interested parties on other economic-modeling opportunities in 2018. And, the Town is working with the Department of Environmental Quality to determine what portion of the 500,000 gallons per day of reclamation water can be used for hops farming. We hope that reclaimed water will be a water source for irrigation and farming.
“We will encourage and consider all ideas that will promote agricultural and recreational use on the property.”
As to the drone or unmanned aircraft test site opportunity: in December, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department was successful in using a tiny, unmanned “aircraft” to locate a 92-year old hunter who had become lost in Shenandoah County. Part of the LCSD’s Project Lifesaver Program, the aircraft – essentially an electronic tracking system – can also be used to locate people who suffer from medical conditions such as autism or Alzheimer’s.
The Town Council will be discussing this Unmanned Aircraft Systems program this month; and Fraser is eager to know what the public thinks of the idea. Said Fraser, “In our January 9, 2018 Town Council meeting, we will be advancing a motion to support the FAA UAS Integration Program. Please email me any input you’d like us to consider relative to this program.”
According to Fraser, “The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems estimates that drones could provide a notable economic infusion by creating up to 100,000 new jobs and adding $82 million to the U.S. economy by 2025. Locally, it will be of great value to test and validate cutting edge UAS operational concepts in the area of precision agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and public safety.”
The Town also hopes to preserve historic aspects of the Aberdeen property, including the beautiful, Federal-style brick structure once owned by one of Loudoun County’s original families – the Potts.
Some Town-Owned Properties
Aberdeen – 189.75 acres
Fields Farm Well Lot – 4.09 acres
Fireman’s Field – 15.67 acres
Hatcher Parking Lot – 0.33 acres
James Parking Lot – 6.9 acres
Miller Parking Lot – 0.35 acres
Wastewater Plant (old and new plant/maintenance shop) – 8.75 acres
Town Office – 1.2 acres
Village Case “park” – 5.8 acres
Wastewater Treatment Plant – 40.99 acres
Water Plant – 3.74 acres
Water Tower – 1.44 acres
Watershed – 1,266.64 acres (5 parcels)
Purcellville resident Kecia Brown – a DAR member who has compiled the history on several notable Purcellville area structures – is working with the Town to develop a historic profile of the Potts house on the Aberdeen property. The property has also been surveyed by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Early members of the Potts family, including a man referred to as “Thomas Potts, the Quaker Preacher,” appear to have emigrated to the United States – including Pennsylvania – from Wales. The Potts family is said to have traveled with William Penn, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
A David Potts purchased land in Fairfax County in an area known as Kittockton Run. According to historic records, “ … in 1757, Loudoun County was formed from the northern part of Fairfax County, and David Potts’ land was included in the new County.” The records also indicate David Potts acquired more land at the “head branches of Piney Run and on the west side of Short Hill.”