Effort continues to improve city’s entry corridors

Posted: July 13, 2013

The Winchester Star

City officials are preparing to consider a zoning change that, over time, could change the look of Berryville Avenue. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — City officials are preparing to consider a zoning change that, over time, could alter the look of Berryville Avenue.

The current land-use zoning for parcels along the street would remain the same, but a corridor enhancement overlay would be added so that its aesthetics would be altered gradually as changes are made to properties.

“It’s intended to incrementally improve the appearance of entry corridors so that over time, people don’t turn away before they get to the heart of the city, the historic district, where so many investments have been made,” Planning Director Tim Youmans said.

To educate affected property owners and tenants about the changes, an open house-style informational meeting is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Hampton Inn on Berryville Avenue. Attendees should enter the main lobby and go to the Jefferson Room on the lower level.

Notices about the meeting were mailed to property owners on June 27, Youmans said. A second batch to tenants along the street was sent on Wednesday.

While corridor enhancement would be new for Berryville Avenue, it is not new for the city.

Such districts exist along Amherst Street (which became the first one in 2005), Cedar Creek Grade, Pleasant Valley Road, East Cork Street and the commercially zoned segments on the southern section of Valley Avenue.

The remainder of Valley Avenue, Millwood Avenue, National Avenue, North Loudoun Street and Fairmont Avenue are the tourist routes targeted for enhancement districts in the future.

A corridor enhancement overlay changes certain rules and establishes recommendations regarding aesthetics in specific areas. Building orientation, roof and wall treatments, and placement of mechanical equipment are examples of standards governed in the districts.

Owners would not be required to make changes if and when the overlay is approved. However, when a building’s use is expanded or changes or when major exterior alterations are made to a structure, owners would have to comply with the standards.

“It doesn’t change the array of uses allowed,” Youmans said. “It allows the same uses and tries to guide the aesthetics.

“It’s the kind of thing that people sense it when they’re on the corridors, but they can’t really put their finger on it. Until you allow corridor enhancement districts to be in place for a number of years, you don’t really see it.”

The changes would affect properties visible from westbound Berryville Avenue, he said, because the state legislation that created corridor enhancement specifically referred to entryways.

Youmans said the standards generally govern properties that face and are within 300 feet of a street. But because being in the viewshed is key, exceptions exist.

For example, he said, the south side of Eastgate Plaza — which has Gold’s Gym and Food Maxx facing Berryville Avenue — would be required to conform to the standards.

But the east side of the same center, which includes businesses such as 3.14 Pizza and is closer to Berryville Avenue, would not be expected to comply since they are not visible as visitors enter the city.

Not all corridor enhancement districts are created equal.

Youmans said Amherst Street, Cedar Creek Grade, Pleasant Valley Road and East Cork Street have “fairly stringent standards.”

Valley Avenue, however, has fewer rules and more recommended guidelines, with signs allowed to be a bit taller and illuminated more. Berryville Avenue, he said, would fall into that category.

Millwood and Fairmont avenues and North Loudoun Street would be the least-restrictive areas, he said, while National Avenue is expected to be in a class by itself because it is almost completely residential.

“We tried to take into account existing character in these areas as we worked with City Council to develop these guidelines,” Youmans said.

While owners and tenants in Winchester’s commercial areas have had questions about the districts before, Youmans said he recalls only one person speaking out against the changes at public hearings and does not think landlords have found that tenants are scared away by the more stringent standards.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com