Strasburg considers allowing first-floor residential apartments downtown

The Strasburg Town Council will vote Tuesday on whether to allow buildings in the “community commercial district” to have ground-floor apartments.

Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said that the move comes because business owners in downtown Strasburg had approached the Board of Zoning Appeals several times in order to get a variance allowing them to use part of their first floor for a residential use.

Town officials have discouraged issuing variances multiple times for the same problem.

“It would be inappropriate for them to approve (another variance), because it’s a more widespread issue than a singular problem,” Pearson said.

Instead, town staff has urged the council to alter its code in order to allow for first-floor residential use.

The Town Council is going to be voting Wednesday on the changed code, rather than at a later date, Pearson said, because the town is trying to get a developer to “hopefully redevelop three structures downtown.”

Pearson said that the developer wants to be able to rent out ground-floor apartments in at least one of his downtown buildings.

“In order for his plans to make sense financially, he wants to put in ground floor apartments,” Pearson said. “And in order to do that, then, he would need for this code amendment to work.”

The developer would be working through the façade program the town has as part of its Community Development Block Grant with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The grant is set to conclude in April 2018.

“We’re trying to get it done now so he has as much time to meet that April deadline as he needs,” Pearson said.

The proposal has not been without criticism. In a joint Planning Commission meeting and Town Council work session, council member Seth Newman said that he was concerned that developers would take advantage of the proposal and grossly limit the amount of commercial space in their buildings.

“I have a feeling that we’re going to allow so many apartment buildings in these structures that that’s what it’s going to become, and it’s going to have a fake storefront,” Newman said. “Because they don’t need it. It’s just going to be there because it’s a requirement.”

At the time, council members were discussing potential changes that would allow business owners to have residential units without applying to the town, if a certain percentage of their buildings were zoned for commercial use. On Tuesday, Town Council members are set to vote on a proposal that would require all developers to apply for a special use permit through the town in order to have ground floor apartments.

In the Planning Commission meeting and work session, Michelle Bixler, economic development and marketing manager for the town, said that the proposal was necessary in order to give business owners an incentive to develop in downtown Strasburg.

“We’ve had how many people who have had to walk away because they cannot make a deal feasible,” Bixler said. “And that’s a problem, so we need to do something to allow for that.”