Size hike is sought for local housing

Posted: June 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A small group of apartments just off the Shenandoah University campus could have twice as much room for students if a requested change is approved.

Windy Hill LLC, owned by Mark Smith, is seeking a conditional-use permit to offer two bedrooms in the five apartments planned atop the Goodwill store at 443 Millwood Ave. The company already received city approval for five one-bedroom units.

The request was reviewed by the Winchester Planning Commission at its work session Tuesday afternoon. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 3 p.m. next Tuesday in the Council Chambers, and a vote on a recommendation could be taken afterward.

The proposed units range in size from 789 to 1,008 square feet.

Aaron Grisdale, the city’s zoning and inspections administrator, said some structural-support changes on one side of the building and Goodwill’s need for less storage space on the second floor created the opportunity to make the apartments bigger.

“This represents a good use of underutilized storage space,” he said.

Smith, who owns the Frederick County business Greenway Engineering, said after the meeting that the total apartment space proposed now is 4,320 square feet, a 444 square-foot increase. Rents likely would range from about $750 to about $1,000.

The two concerns aired by the commissioners related to traffic flow.

Chairman Bill Wiley said he’s seen traffic stack up along Millwood Avenue back to Pleasant Valley Road as customers try to turn into Goodwill’s parking lot. Doubling the number of tenants, he reasoned, increases the chances of that happening.

Smith replied that he’s already getting calls about the apartments and all are from SU students, who likely would walk to many of their destinations.

The city might want to consider its options along that section of Millwood, he said. Existing on-street parking provides enough room for extra travel lanes, and increasing traffic volumes might warrant adding them.

Proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan regarding the extension of Meadow Branch Avenue also were discussed because the issue also is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday.

The plan must be amended to accommodate the relocation of John Kerr Elementary School to the area where the new section of street would run. State code requires a locality’s comprehensive plan to identify areas where public buildings are to be constructed.

The Comprehensive Plan doesn’t specifically deal with the issue most on the minds of many residents in the area — whether Meadow Branch will remain the two-lane divided street it is now or open to the four lanes of traffic envisioned for decades. That was the primary topic of concern aired at a recent public input meeting.

“It’s clear that the overwhelming number of attendees (at the meeting) wanted to hear about the discussion of two lanes versus four lanes on Meadow Branch Avenue,” Planning Director Tim Youmans said.

He provided a brief history lesson on the street, noting that it was identified as a “major primary highway” in a 1958 master plan, a proposed thoroughfare in the 1974 Comprehensive Plan, and a four-lane, divided urban parkway in the 1988 Transportation Plan tied to Meadow Branch’s development plan.

Long-range transportation planning documents estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles will use the route daily by 2035.

The commissioners also reviewed a proposed ordinance to add Wyck and North Cameron streets to the city’s list of corridor enhancement districts.

The districts are routes often used by visitors coming to the historic district. Corridor-enhancement overlays request or require that the owners of properties visible from those streets use higher design standards when altering the outside of their properties.

Attending the meeting at Rouss City Hall were Chairman Bill Wiley and commissioners Mark Loring, Martha Shickle and David Smith. Vice-Chairman Stephen Slaughter Jr. and commissioners Jennifer Beatley and Kevin McKannan were absent.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com