Racey Meadows apartment complex rezoning rejected

Posted: April 10, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A project that could have resulted in 132 apartments being built on the city’s western border is dead, at least for now.

On an 8-1 vote Tuesday night, City Council denied a rezoning request by Valley View Management that would have allowed the company to build the Racey Meadows apartment complex at 940 Cedar Creek Grade.

Had the project been approved and developed, Racey Meadows would have become the largest apartment complex built in the city in more than a decade.

Council President John Willingham cast the lone vote against the motion. He said that vote didn’t reflect support for the project, but he thought it could have been tabled and worked on further.

That was the request that Valley View made last week. With opposition to the project as proposed evident, company officials asked to have the vote pushed back by a month so it could try to address the councilors’ concerns.

But the councilors refused to consider a delay.

In making the motion to deny the request, Vice-Mayor Les Veach said the proposed project is not properly aligned with the city’s Comprehensive Plan or Strategic Plan.

“It’s been through the Planning Commission. It’s been tabled before,” Veach said after the meeting. “There were suggestions made by Jim Deskins (the city’s economic redevelopment director) and the Planning Commission that seem to have fallen on deaf ears that I think would get this in line with the Comprehensive Plan and the Strategic Plan.”

Veach said he thinks Valley View might be able to work with city staff to come up with a project the councilors would deem palatable, referencing discussions about a mixed-use project featuring some commercial space.

“I think there could be a solution out there,” he said. “I just think it will take a little bit of time to get it.”

Bob Cocker, Valley View’s manager, called the decision to reject his request to table the issue “a little bit of a puzzling situation for me.” He said he had hoped to work with the councilors later this month to present a project they could support.

He said that in meetings with City Manager Dale Iman and City Attorney Tony Williams last week regarding the requested delay, he wasn’t given the impression that it would be denied.

“I think my attorney is owed an explanation,” he said.

However, he said the decision was made “in accordance with the rules of the City Council, and those are the rules I’ve got to live with.”

Planning Director Tim Youmans said after the meeting that the councilors can accept or reject such requests.

Valley View was seeking a rezoning that would have allowed it to build 72 one-bedroom and 60 two-bedroom apartments on the 7.74-acre lot.

Members of both the Planning Commission — which voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the rezoning — and City Council had questioned whether the project would place a financial burden on taxpayers. They were concerned that too many apartments would have school children that the city would have to pay to educate.

To combat that concern, Valley View hired S. Patz & Associates of Potomac Falls to do a financial impact analysis for the project. Cocker said the city hired that company in 2011 to do similar work.

The analysis concluded that only one or two school-aged children likely would live in Racey Meadows at any given time.

Four people spoke at the public hearing before the vote, with two expressing concerns previously aired.

Jason Largent made the most impassioned plea, saying the councilors should approve the request.

Speaking on behalf of current property owner Hilda Racey, who would have sold the land to Valley View, Largent said land was changed to Residential Office zoning in a city-initiated rezoning.

Since then, he said, Racey has been saddled by annual real estate tax bills of about $36,000 on a property with an assessed value of nearly $3.2 million. He said ongoing efforts to market the land have been unsuccessful, and Valley View’s offer is less than half of the assessed value.

“This was a pipe dream of our city officials,” Largent said of the current zoning, adding that Racey has considered donating the land to a charity to relieve herself of the tax burden.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com