WINCHESTER — The Winchester Planning Commission has recommended approval of a proposed new subdivision at the site of the former Frederick County Middle School.
The proposal from Healthcare Development Partners (HDP) of Chicago calls for removing the former school building, which is now vacant, and developing the 22.7-acre property to include 160 age-restricted apartments for active adults and 143 to 146 townhouse and duplex units for individuals and families.
Originally, HDP had hoped to build 160 general-use townhouses and duplexes, but agreed earlier this month to reduce that number after people who live near the project site raised concerns about the development’s potential impact on local roads.
Reducing the number of townhouses and duplexes also opened up more green space on the property, including a section of land that will be transformed into a community park for use by the general public. With that change, the project’s total green space rose to 43.2% of the site, just shy of the 45% minimum required by City Code.
City Planner David Stewart told the commission at its monthly meeting on Tuesday that 43.2% “is a good number.” City Council can either accept the green space as proposed or insist that HDP add another 1.8% of open area to its proposed development.
A financial impact study submitted by HDP in September showed that approximately 52 school-age children are expected to live in the new townhouses and duplexes. Adding that many children to the city school system would cost $383,651 per year, and providing emergency and infrastructure services to the site would cost an additional $509,890 per year. Those expenses, which would be offset by an estimated $1,402,325 in annual taxes paid by the subdivision and its residents, are expected to decrease because of the reduction in the number of proposed general-use townhouses and duplexes.
When the property at 441 Linden Drive operated as a public school, an estimated 1,459 vehicle trips were made to and from the site each weekday, with the bulk of travel occurring when school opened in the morning and closed in the afternoon. A traffic study commissioned by HDP when the number of general-use townhouses and duplexes stood at 160 projected the proposed residential development would generate an estimated 1,787 vehicle trips per day.
“It will get better in the final [traffic] report,” HDP Project Manager Andy Palec told the commission on Tuesday.
HDP’s proposal also includes roundabouts at the subdivision’s access points along Linden Drive and Caroline Street — the two streets that would be most widely used by residents of the new development — plus a private access road that would connect the age-restricted apartments to Campus Boulevard on the adjacent Winchester Medical Center campus.
However, HDP needs easement agreements from Winchester Medical Center for the access road and Shenandoah University for the Caroline Street interchange. Palec told the commission on Tuesday the hospital and college, which own properties on two sides of the proposed subdivision, have both expressed willingness to work with the developer, but it could be January until HDP knows if the easements will be granted.
“It’s a matter of doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” Palec said.
“I like the project, but I think there are a few kinks to work out,” Commissioner Brandon Pifer said, referring to how uncertainty over the easements means HDP is proposing an access road and interchange that would have to be revised or removed if objections are raised by Winchester Medical Center and/or Shenandoah University.
Commission Vice Chairman John Tagnesi, who presided over Tuesday’s meeting, said HDP’s proposal could be tabled until the easement questions are answered, or go forward to City Council as is.
“We can beat the horse to death,” Tagnesi said about HDP’s request. “It’s either it goes forth to City Council with the [easement-related] options or it doesn’t go to City Council.”
The commission voted 5-1 to forward the item to council with a recommendation of approval. Pifer said he could not support the project without knowing the status of the easements.
Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Winchester Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Vice Chairman John Tagnesi and members Leesa Mayfield, Paul Richardson, Lacey Burnett, Brandon Pifer and David Ray. Chairman Mark Loring was absent.