WINCHESTER — The developer of what would be downtown Winchester's largest apartment complex has been given the green light to proceed, but there were moments on Tuesday when it appeared the long-gestating project would get derailed.

Cameron Square is envisioned as a mixed-use residential and commercial complex encompassing the 200 and 300 blocks of North Cameron Street. As proposed, it would include 171 market-rate apartments, a concrete parking deck with 195 spaces and room for two ground-level retail businesses.

On Tuesday night, project developer Lynx Ventures Inc. of Richmond asked City Council to approve a conditional-use permit (CUP) allowing it to exceed the residential density limit for the site, which is comprised of eight consolidated parcels purchased from Glaize Developments Inc. of Winchester for approximately $2.6 million plus a vacant parcel owned by the city's Economic Development Authority (EDA) where the Winchester Towers apartment building stood before being demolished in late 2016.

Cameron Square would be built on land zoned Central Business (B-1), where zoning regulations limit the number of residential units to a maximum of 51. Lynx wants to build 171 units so, without the CUP, the project would not be able to proceed.

Although a parking deck is included in the proposal, zoning regulations for downtown Winchester do not require residential developments to include dedicated parking for residents because there are four public autoparks within walking distance plus on-street metered spaces. On Tuesday, though, some members of City Council expressed reluctance about approving the CUP because 195 parking spaces may not be enough to accommodate all of the vehicles driven by tenants of Cameron Square's 171 apartments.

"I see the residents of this property having 200, 300 cars," Councilor Evan Clark said. "I don't see it working at all with this many apartments."

"I am concerned about parking as well," council Vice President Kim Herbstritt said before proposing a traffic impact analysis to see if the extra vehicle trips generated by Cameron Square could clog downtown streets.

Clark added that he was also frustrated by a lack of information from Lynx regarding how many school-age children could live at Cameron Square. Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans said the potential impact on Winchester Public Schools should be minimal because the proposed apartments are not big enough to accommodate growing families.

Councilor Phillip Milstead said his primary concern is that Cameron Square's proposed mix of apartments — 11 studio units, 22 "junior bedroom" units, 95 one-bedroom units, six one-bedroom units with a den, 32 two-bedroom units and five two-bedroom units with a den — does not address Winchester's need for dwellings large enough to accommodate families.

"We need more emphasis on larger apartments," Milstead said.

After several minutes of discussion among council members, Mayor David Smith interjected and said most of the concerns expressed by the panel had already been hashed out by various city officials and governing bodies in the nearly two years since Lynx first proposed the apartment complex.

Smith said COVID-19 and other factors have already significantly delayed progress on Cameron Square, and he was "concerned about the timeline" if council decided to postpone a vote on the CUP due to issues that had already been debated and resolved.

Smith's concern had merit. The EDA previously gave Lynx an Oct. 29 deadline to close its purchase of the former Winchester Towers site or risk having the sale canceled. According to a February 2020 purchase agreement, Lynx plans to pay the EDA $325,000 for the vacant parcel.

After more than 30 minutes of debate, council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve the CUP and give Lynx the density it needs to build 171 apartments.

The project still has a few administrative hurdles to overcome, particularly with getting approval for Cameron Square's site plan. That plan, which will include specific details on the property's layout and proposed amenities, is expected to be presented to the city's Planning and Zoning Department within the next few months.

In other business at Tuesday night's meeting and work session, City Council:

• Voted 7-2 to make Juneteenth (June 19) an official city holiday. Although everyone on council expressed support for the proposal, councilors Judy McKiernan and Les Veach voted against the measure after Clark added a rider to it. Clark's motion endorsed Juneteenth but also renamed another city holiday, Columbus Day, to Indigenous Peoples' Day. Smith, Winchester's first Black mayor, said he took exception to combining a vote on Juneteenth, which is a celebration of the emancipation of Black slaves in America, with a decision regarding a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, who enslaved, abused and brought diseases to the native inhabitants of the countries he explored. Clark's motion was ultimately approved so Winchester will now celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day on the second Monday of each October and no longer recognize Columbus Day.

• Unanimously approved a resolution to add nine full-time positions — a paramedic, a self-sufficiency specialist for the Winchester Department of Social Services, four bus drivers and three custodians — to the city's payroll. Two of the bus drivers will be assigned to a new public bus route that will run to both Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown and the Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center in Winchester. The new drivers will start work on Dec. 1, but officials have not said when the bus route will begin.

• Was presented with a housing study that shows Winchester has a severe shortage of available homes for low-income and high-income residents. The study will be used as a tool to guide council's future decisions regarding residential development proposals.

• Voted 7-2 to update a CUP that limited Ramana Heyman to operating a short-term rental in her home at 2625 Daniel Terrace 104 days per year. Milstead and Smith opposed the removal of the restriction.

• Held first readings on proposed ordinances that would vacate and convey three small parcels of city-owned land to the adjacent property owners. The properties are a 0.08-acre parcel at 145 Myrtle Ave., a 0.17-acre parcel at 1467 Greystone Terrace and a 0.11-acre parcel at 1462 Greystone Terrace.

• Held a first reading of a proposed ordinance to allocate $15.8 million for previously anticipated expenditures in the fiscal year 2022 budget.

• Unanimously agreed to forward proposed changes to the city's zoning ordinance pertaining to off-street parking area buffers.

• Unanimously agreed to appoint Hayley Mullins to a two-year term on the Community Policy Management Team, ending Oct. 11, 2023, and Rebecca Taylor to a six-year term on the Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Board, ending Oct. 11, 2027.

• Met in executive session for 25 minutes to discuss litigation filed against the city by Winchester-based Grafton Integrated Health Network. Grafton, an educational services provider, claimed in a September 2020 lawsuit that Winchester improperly billed it for more than $160,000 in real estate and personal property taxes. No action was taken following council's closed-door discussions.

Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice President Kim Herbstritt, Vice Mayor John Hill and members Evan Clark, Corey Sullivan, Phillip Milstead, Richard Bell, Judy McKiernan and Les Veach.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(2) comments

WINCBEST

This city Government amazes me. They are building back the exact thing they tore down but on a grand scale. This is going to do nothing but create havoc in this area.

Winchester needs to stop trying to be Little Washington,DC. We just keep building to bring the people from that area here to retire and make it harder for the older residents to live in area. Does nothing but increase taxes and more traffic. We already have enough of those problems. Is it never going to end. STOP building.

StellaBob

wincbest amazes me.....

do you want the lot to sit vacant? do you want piccadilly to remain as ugly and run down as it is? a new, nice, upscale building would bring MONEY downtown, which would be welcome to all the businesses and potential businesses' downtown.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.