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Planners endorse Va. 627 land use

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By J.R. Williams - jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A long-range plan for development of the Reliance Road (Va. 627) area east of Middletown received favorable comments Wednesday night from the Frederick County Planning Commission.

Their remarks will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors. Should the board and town agree, a public hearing is the next step.

County Planning director Eric R. Lawrence presented commission members with a draft version of the plan -- called the Reliance Road Area Joint Land Use Plan -- at Wednesday's meeting.

A forecast of development in the next 20-30 years east of the town's Interstate 81 interchange, it proposes uses for about 222 rural acres.

The plan was jointly developed with county and town officials, and is seen as a step toward a potential expansion of the town's boundaries. That discussion likely will take shape if county and town leaders approve the land-use concepts.

About 44 acres of commercial use is proposed southeast of the I-81 interchange, and technology use is proposed for about 138 acres.

"I think it's something that will be good for the county in the future," said Roger L. Thomas, Planning Commission vice chairman.

Transportation changes, including the relocation of Buckton Road, are also proposed. Another facet of the plan that prompted questions Wednesday -- availability of water -- is at the heart of whether anything can be built in the area at all.

While sewer capacity is a non-issue, Middletown is short on water supply. Considering all developments already approved, the town has about 18,000 gallons of water per day to spare, a figure Thomas said boiled down to "rounding error."

"Essentially, we can say they have no water available," he said.

Middletown looked south to explore the feasibility of using Strasburg as a water source. The towns jointly commissioned a study.

Lawrence said the estimated cost of improvements for Strasburg to provide water to Middletown was about $3 million.

"Clearly the residents aren't interested in paying additional water charges to upgrade a system for somebody else's development," he said, "and that's part of the challenge of figuring out who's going to pay for that water line extension. Logically it's going to be future growth, and how do you capture that?"

Commission member Greg L. Unger said Middletown's current water vendor -- Winchester -- is a more likely partner.

"I agree it probably needs to be another water source, but I would think Winchester would play a big part in what would happen here because that's where they're getting the water now," he said.

The study area shrank from more than 300 acres after a public comment meeting in November. Middletown-area residents criticized the plan at that meeting and said they were skeptical of encouraging development in the area.

Lawrence said with 37 acres of existing commercial development at the heart of the study area, it made sense to develop a plan.

"At the end of the day, I think there's a benefit to having a land use plan down there," he said. "It sets the framework."

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