Our View: Town centers
Posted: February 18, 2013
For the past 20 years or so we’ve heard the refrain — intermittently rather than incessantly expressed — “Don’t Loudounize Frederick.” The words are self-explanatory.
Admittedly, such sentiments came to mind when we heard that Frederick County had better “plan for a shift in lifestyle” — and that Loudoun-esque “town centers” might be in the county’s future.
Such was the crux of a presentation made Feb. 9 by OakCrest real estate and development officials Jim Vickers, Suzette Neff, and Vaughn Foura at the county’s annual Planning Commission retreat.
Not that we have anything against “town centers” — i.e., large mixed-use (often “walkable”) residential-commercial developments — in principle, but we still felt compelled to seek the heightened, and empirical, perspective of longtime county administrator and former planner John R. Riley Jr.
Our major question when we spoke with Mr. Riley on Friday was: “Has the lifestyle change referenced by Mr. Vickers actually come to Frederick?” Mr. Riley’s answer: a rather decisive “No.” He termed the vision “futuristic.”
And, in terms of town-center development, Mr. Riley added, “I don’t think we’re ready; the demand is not there. All the pieces are not there as they were in Leesburg, Lansdowne, or Short Pump Center (west of Richmond).”
Then again, Mr. Riley continued, “we’re always saying we want our kids to come back. Futuristically, this is the type of thing to bring them back.”
Thus, it makes good sense, and not merely from a whimsical standpoint, to prepare for that sort of possible development. Clearing the way for town centers, through eventual amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and then at the “ordinance development stage,” would simply provide another “tool in the (development) toolbox.”
That’s simply the county’s job — whether town centers evolve from current development or not, Mr. Riley said. It never pays to be reactive or “complacent.” In other words, it’s best to prepare for all eventualities or possibilities.
“What we’re charged to do is look long-term,” he said. “We want to provide an opportunity, at the ordinance development stage, in which we enable rather than mandate. We want to facilitate, not dictate.”
Truth be told, that evolution, however embryonic, has already begun. We noticed the initial stirrings of town-center-style development in the plans for the Channing Drive area off Senseny Road and at Snowden Bridge, and also, later on, in the connect-the-dots developments along Warrior Drive near Stephens City. Finally, Mr. Riley says, the envisioned Crosspointe development at the southern end of Va. 37, though still a “blank slate,” could eventually become a town center . . . or not. Hence, the necessity of preparation.
It behooves us to emphasize that any such town-center evolution, as Mr. Riley stated, would take place within the Urban Development Area. Frederick, it must be noted, took great pains a few years back to cobble together a Rural Areas Plan with the expressed purpose of “allowing those parts of the county to be as they are.”
As such, Frederick, so Mr. Riley says, is a “hybrid” — neither Loudoun nor Clarke — and likely to remain so.
“You’re in a much better position when you anticipate rather than react,” he said. “It’s served us well; we’ve been able to create our own identity.”