WINCHESTER — A large parcel of land along South Pleasant Valley Road that has been vacant for decades could soon be home to more than 400 Shenandoah University students.
The property, located behind the Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant at 1551 S. Pleasant Valley Road and adjacent to the former Kmart department store at 1671 S. Pleasant Valley Road, has long been singled out by Winchester officials as a prime location for commercial or retail development. The land, commonly referred to as Winchester Marketplace, was rezoned for commercial use in 2000, and the city’s Comprehensive Plan has identified the 6.23-acre property as a prime redevelopment site for the past nine years.
Over the past two decades, there have been numerous attempts to develop the property, none of which panned out. One of those plans, first introduced in 2015, suggested the land’s close proximity to Shenandoah University would make it ideal for student housing. That plan, like all others before it, fell by the wayside.
On Tuesday, the 2015 proposal was resurrected during a presentation to the Winchester Planning Commission. Property owner Jay Donegan of Reston is working with Pinnacle Construction and Development Corp. of Charlottesville to refresh plans for a 258,000-square-foot complex called The Local that would be specifically designed for college students and young professionals.
“We’ve had numerous meetings with Shenandoah about the need for housing,” Winchester attorney Thomas “Ty” Lawson, who is representing the project, told the commission on Tuesday. “Our meetings date back to five years ago, and since then, the need hasn’t diminished.”
As proposed, The Local would include 198 apartments and a commons building for tenants. Donegan is hoping to build 134 two-bedroom units, 42 three-bedroom units and 16 four-bedroom units. In response to health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, each bedroom would have its own bathroom.
Since the apartments would be about a five-minute walk from Shenandoah, Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans said, “We anticipate that any students who reside here will not drive to the Shenandoah University campus.”
Instead, Youmans said, students would most likely utilize the existing pedestrian crosswalks on South Pleasant Valley Road and Millwood Avenue.
“This is a very appropriate project for this location,” he said.
Donegan is asking the city to add a Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation to his property’s Highway Commercial (B2) zoning. Factoring in density bonuses that were recently approved by City Council, the PUD could conceivably allow more than 200 apartments to be built at the site.
But the city needs several pieces of additional information before it can act on the rezoning request. First and foremost, Youmans said, Donegan would need to submit a financial impact analysis to determine how much it would cost the city to provide police, fire, rescue and infrastructure services to the complex’s residents.
While The Local’s targeted clientele would be college students and young professionals, there are currently no guarantees that apartments would not be rented to people with school-age children.
“Without some assurances in writing, the development, which contains at least 58 three- and four-bedroom apartments, could have a significant impact on public schools,” Youmans wrote in his report to the commission.
A public hearing on the rezoning proposal is scheduled for the commission’s meeting on Aug. 18, but members said on Tuesday they will most likely table the request to give Donegan more time to provide the missing information. If that turns out to be the case, the commission would issue a recommendation on the proposal at its Sept. 15 business meeting. The matter would then be forwarded to City Council for a final decision.
Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Winchester Planning Commission work session, which was held via videoconference, were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairman John Tagnesi and members Leesa Mayfield, Paul Richardson and Lacey Burnett. Commissioners Brandon Pifer and David Ray were absent.