WINCHESTER — City Council wants more information before deciding whether to approve a rezoning that would set the stage for construction of an age-restricted subdivision next to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Meanwhile, neighbors of the proposed project, called The Preserve at Meadow Branch, continue to protest the development, just as they did nearly a decade ago when the museum wanted to build a trail system through a portion of the property that is now eyed for high-end housing for residents 55 and older.
Elevate Homes of Williamsport, Maryland, which specializes in building communities for active seniors, wants to build 74 single-family homes at the site, which would require extending Jefferson Street and Nester Drive and having them serve as the subdivision’s primary corridors. According to documents submitted to the Winchester Planning and Zoning Department, the developer would build the extensions and the streets would remain public.
Eight different home designs — each including a two-car garage — would be featured in the proposed community, with the price of each house being $500,000 or more.
The 28.26-acre site that would host the subdivision is comprised of two parcels — 20.26 acres owned by the Glass-Glen Burnie Foundation, which is a private organization that supports the MSV, and 8 acres owned by the Bridgeforth family of Winchester. Both parcels are zoned Low Density Residential (LR), a designation that would allow Elevate to develop up to 79 residential lots on the site by right. However, Elevate wants to add a Planned Unit Development (PUD) overlay to the LR zoning so homes and yards can be clustered more closely together. While that would reduce the number of building lots from 79 to 74, it would provide extra space for roads and community amenities including a dog park, pavilion, fire pit and shared garden.
At Tuesday night's council meeting, more than a dozen people who live near the proposed development said The Preserve at Meadow Branch would have a detrimental effect on their homes. Their top concerns, which they have consistently shared with city officials since the proposal was first presented to the Winchester Planning Commission in early October, have to do with stormwater drainage, the ability of Jefferson and Nester to handle increased traffic, the forthrightness of the developer in discussing potential neighborhood impacts, and the loss of about 10 acres of woodland that currently provide a home to wildlife including deer, turkeys, coyotes and foxes.
Despite assurances from Elevate and city officials that all concerns will be addressed in the site and subdivision plans that will be prepared if the PUD overlay is approved, residents say it's too great a risk to approve the rezoning based on project designs that don't exist.
Some of the neighbors' arguments echo comments made between March 2011 and November 2013 when the MSV was developing a trail system on its Amherst Street property and contemplated using the 20.26 acres adjacent to the museum to expand the walking paths. According to a Nov. 17 email from museum Director and CEO Dana Hand Evans to City Councilor Richard Bell, which was included in documentation for Tuesday night's council meeting, neighbors at that time objected to having the trails so close to their homes.
"The simplest thing to do was pull the trails back off the property line to their current location," Evans said in the email. As a result, the trail system that opened on museum grounds one year ago does not infringe on the 20.26 acres next to the MSV.
Some council members on Tuesday reminded the neighbors that the LR zoning already in place for the foundation and Bridgeforth properties would allow Elevate to develop an age-restricted subdivision without a PUD overlay. In fact, a by-right development could include up to five more homes than Elevate is proposing under the PUD application and, if everything is built in accordance with zoning code, City Council would have very limited say regarding how Elevate addresses issues like stormwater drainage and landscaping.
"If the developer decides to go by right, it's out of our hands," Mayor and council President David Smith said. "If council doesn't have control of that PUD, we can't hold them to the fire."
Not everyone on council agreed. Councilor Evan Clark, for example, said he understands the possible ramifications of a by-right development but he cannot support Elevate's PUD application because no plans have been presented to show how the company will preserve the integrity of nearby properties.
Vice Mayor John Hill moved that Elevate's PUD application be approved, but his motion died for lack of a second.
Council Vice President Kim Herbstritt made a subsequent motion to table the rezoning until council's next meeting on Dec. 14 because Elevate had failed to provide documentation on how The Preserve at Meadow Branch's homeowners association would operate and how much would be spent on annual property maintenance. According to Winchester's zoning codes, that information must be submitted as part of the PUD process.
Herbstritt's motion was seconded by Clark and approved unanimously by council, meaning Elevate has until council's next meeting on Dec. 14 to present that information to the city.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice President Kim Herbstritt, Vice Mayor John Hill and members Les Veach, Evan Clark, Corey Sullivan, Phillip Milstead, Richard Bell and Judy McKiernan.