STRASBURG — The Planning Commission has recommended the Town Council approve all three phases of the Summit Crossing Preliminary Development Plan and changes to the town’s sign ordinance.
Though it previously recommended the plan based on the project’s first phase, the Planning Commission revisited the subject at its Tuesday meeting after the Town Council failed to approve the plan at its October meeting.
The council’s vote to approve the plan failed 3 to 5, with Jocelyn Vena, Scott Terndrup and Emily Reynolds voting in favor of the measure.
The council’s main objection was that the second and third phase of the plan had not been detailed yet, leaving plans to complete a new road through the development uncertain.
Developer Pennoni Associates added to the plan over the last several weeks and offered a more comprehensive idea for the development, which will include 111 townhouses and 140 single-family housing lots on 80.68 acres north of town. A previous vote by the council has limited the number of building permits that can be acquired for a single housing project to 50 over a 12-month period. This means it will take more than five years after project approval for all the housing units to be constructed.
All commissioners present at Tuesday’s meeting approved the plan (council representative Scott Terndrup was absent), but many landowners who spoke in a public hearing on the matter raised concerns.
“The area that the future is being built on is quite frankly probably unstable,” said resident Luke Phister, who owns property downhill from the proposed housing development and is concerned about the impact on groundwater and erosion levels.
“We could lose our town run,” Phister said. “That could disappear just from this activity, this massive amount of activity for our small little town.”
Having already endured flooding on his property from the convergence of three waterways, including the Town Run, which flows downhill into the town’s historic district, he said he fears more flooding will occur when builders disrupt underground springs.
“It’s pretty scary,” he said. “If anybody’s going to get hurt from this, it’s a bad idea.”
Larry Bright, of Strasburg, spoke on the potential for disruptions based on the history of three nearby limestone quarries that have closed since filling with water from underground springs.
“What closed those quarries down? One of them is on the same elevation as this,” he said.
“That whole property ... is full of caverns, sinkholes and underground rivers, if you will.”
He also raised concerns about the prospect of a large housing development leading to an influx of people shopping at businesses in strip malls north of town.
“You think they’re going to do their shopping and then travel on downtown and shop here in little shops? No,” he said.
“I thought the point was to bring people to downtown Strasburg,” he said. “I thought that was one of the main agendas for everything that was going on here.”
Cliff Hupp, of Winchester, owns land near the site and spoke with concern about surface water and the impact of impervious layers on a watershed.
After 40 years with the Department of the Interior and a doctorate in fluvial geomorphology (the study of changes in rivers, streams and hydrology), he said the weight of 111 townhouses and their attendant pavement, in particular, would “increase by a substantial amount the impervious percentage of the watershed above the town.”
This has a huge impact on water quality and bank stability, he said.
Commissioners discussed residents’ concerns — which also included a request for more parking spaces and walkways that connect Summit Crossing to the Hupp’s Ridge community — but determined that recommending the preliminary plan would not preclude any future decisions that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality makes concerning the geology of the land.
“When this first came forward and was approved, were these stormwater management issues discussed and considered?” asked Commissioner Vince Poling. “That just sticks in my head.”
David Frank, who was representing Pennoni Associates, said to get the site plans approved, “there was a stormwater management and review.”
The site design is based on conversations that took into account the impervious layer, he said, and the plan is a living document that can accept changes as needed.
“What we saw tonight is very dramatic and very real,” he said of the concerns that residents indicated on the site map.
However, he said the site plan abides by current standards, which are a “tremendous improvement” on the requirements from decades ago.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Lee Pambid also offered assurances that the recommendation of the plan is still an early stage in the project.
“These comments of stormwater capacity [are] way beyond the level of detail that we are required to get at a preliminary development plan level,” said Pambid.
The commission also approved the recommendation of proposed changes to the town’s sign ordinance forwarded from the Ordinance Committee.
Amendments to the ordinance include changes to the size and type of signs allowed in town, as well as location and duration of placement.
The town has removed certain unused, obsolete, duplicative or otherwise unnecessary definitions and provisions, added missing definitions and clarified rules for political signage.
Town Council has its next work session at 7 p.m. Monday and its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 10.
Attending the meeting were commissioners Robert Flanagan, John Rhodes, James Massey, Vince Poling, Steve Nicholson and Hank Dean. Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup was absent.