WINCHESTER — More than two years after first being proposed, the city's Planning Commission has recommended approval of a major apartment complex downtown.
Cameron Square would include 171 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment units, as well as a concrete parking deck with 195 spaces and room for two ground-level retail businesses.
The four-story structure would fill most of the 200 and 300 blocks of North Cameron Street, starting at the former Winchester Towers site at 200-214 N. Cameron St. and stretching north to Baker Street. The apartment building would span across Fairfax Lane, leaving a 20-foot-wide path with a 24-foot clearance that could be accessed by firetrucks in the event of an emergency.
While some vacant structures would have to be demolished to make room for the apartments, the project would not disturb three existing buildings in the 300 block of North Cameron Street. One of those structures is currently empty, and the other two are occupied by Winchester Brew Works and NextHome Realty Select.
Construction would require the closure of Old Town Cidery, an open-air bar at 326 N. Cameron St., but the operators of that establishment, brothers David Glaize and Philip Glaize III, knew the business would most likely be a temporary venture because of the pending Cameron Square. Also, the Glaize family owns much of the property designated for the apartment complex and plans on selling it to Lynx Ventures Inc. of Richmond, the development firm proposing Cameron Square.
Ron Mislowsky, director of the Winchester design firm Pennoni Associates that is working with Lynx Ventures on the Cameron Square project, said Old Town Cidery shouldn't be closing anytime soon.
"It's probably going to take a year for us to get all the plans approved," Mislowsky told the Planning Commission at its meeting on Tuesday.
The extra time is needed because further designs hinge on City Council's approval of a conditional-use permit (CUP) that would make density concessions allowing up to 175 apartments to be located in Cameron Square.
If the CUP is accepted, Lynx would return to the Planning Commission with a site plan that contains more specific information on things like setbacks from the city's rights-of-way and outdoor amenities for apartment residents.
Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans said it will be difficult for Lynx to use 30% of its property for the amount of outdoor greenspace required by the city, but there are ways around that. For example, Lynx could instead improve nearby public properties like Timbrook Park that would be utilized by Cameron Square inhabitants.
"There are still a lot of things for us to work through ... but we have an experienced team," said Bernard Harless, a principle with Lynx Ventures.
"I am impressed by what I see," Commissioner David Ray said.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to forward Lynx's CUP application to City Council, which has its next meeting on July 27. If council approves the permit, the next step would be for Lynx to submit a site plan to the commission.
Commission Chairman Mark Loring said he is excited to see the forthcoming site plan.
"I think this is a great use of a property that, in my mind, is kind of a blight spot in the city," Loring said. "It is going to increase density downtown, but I think that's the intent of city leaders right now and it's in concert with the comprehensive plan [for future growth]."
Attending Tuesday afternoon's Winchester Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairwoman Lacey Burnett and members John Tagnesi, Brandon Pifer, Paul Richardson and David Ray. Commissioner Leesa Mayfield was absent.