STRASBURG — Town Council approved two proffer amendments Tuesday but deadlocked on a third. The amendment failed since the mayor wasn’t there to break the tie.
Approval of the proposal would have increased the maximum number of building permits allowed for a single housing project in a calendar year. It failed when council members Kim Bishop, Ken Cherrix, S. John Massoud and Taralyn Nicholson voted in opposition and no tie-breaker vote was available.
Initially, the proffer would have allowed 100 building permits each year instead of the 50 the town now allows. In a follow-up motion to approve the proffer amendment, Councilwoman Emily Reynolds used amended wording of the proffer to allow for 75 permits. Barbara Plitt seconded the motion; Jocelyn Vena and Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup also approved the measure.
“A four to four vote is actually a ‘no’ vote with the mayor not here to break the tie,” Terndrup told councilors after the vote. “This amendment is not approved, and I guess we stand at 50 ... from what I understand.”
When the meeting started, all three amendments were linked under a single action item, but after much discussion, council members agreed to vote on each amendment separately.
All three amendments concerned the proposed Summit Crossing housing development on the north side of town across from the Food Lion shopping center. Planning & Zoning Administrator Lee Pambid reminded that Town Council approved the project during the 2004/2005 fiscal year.
The neighborhood has been approved for 250 single family homes and townhouses, and the three proffer amendments were voluntarily offered by developer Pennoni Associates.
In a 5-3 vote, with Massoud, Cherrix and Bishop opposing the amendment, the council approved widening a planned 5-foot-wide sidewalk to be a 10-foot-wide walking trail.
In a 6-2vote, with Cherrix and Bishop opposed, the council approved the option of building an east-west connector road between U.S. 11 and Colley Block Road before the 10th housing unit is built in the project’s second or third phase, whichever comes first. This amendment ties the building of the connector road to the progress of the project, easing fears some council members had that the road might never be built. The road will allow emergency vehicles and residents more than one way of entering and leaving the neighborhood.
But approval of that vote isn’t as cut and dry as it would have been if the vote concerning building permit limits had also been approved, Terndrup explained on Wednesday.
“That amendment was kind of tied to triggering when the road would be able to be started,” he said.
Though the council ultimately separated the three proffer amendments to have a chance of approving any of them, Terndrup said, “[it] was the recommendation of the Planning Commission that those two kind of sit together.”
The longer it takes builders to acquire permits, the longer it will take them to begin the second or third phase, he said. Per the proffer amendment, they aren’t required to complete the connector road until they reach that 10th unit.
Still, he said, approval of the connector road eases a “major concern.” Without the amendment, “We would be left with half a road built.”
Terndrup said he doesn’t know which way the mayor would have voted on the proffer, but when asked about the impact of not having the mayor there to break ties, he said: “You can see it last night.”
“Normally, he would have been in a position to have voted in favor,” Terndrup said.
Mayor Rich Orndorff Jr. has been absent from council meetings since he was involved in a vehicle accident in downtown Strasburg on May 17. A vehicle he was driving struck the town library, police have confirmed. At Tuesday’s meeting, Terndrup again asked for prayers for Orndorff “in his long recovery.”
Though the vote didn’t go the way Terndrup and others hoped, he praised the process.
“There was a lot of public involvement,” he said. “This is what local government should be like. There’s never just one right answer.”
Tuesday’s votes ended a months-long council discussion on whether the amendments would be in the town’s best interest. They still disagree on whether the neighborhood itself is a good idea, and most councilors mentioned hearing from concerned residents about one or more of the proffer amendments.
Three community members spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, all opposing the increase in building permit limits.
Though recognizing the motion to approve 75 permits as “a friendly suggestion,” Nicholson said she was voting no in support of her constituents.
“I was elected to listen to the people,” she said.
“I think it’s a good compromise,” she said, “... but we’ve got to make sure that we are all part of the language to make sure things are in place.”
Regardless of her decision, she added that she would be surprised if developers were able to get even 50 building permits in a year, much less 75, in a town with about 6,600 residents.
“If we do, my goodness,” she said. “Hold on.”
Terndrup said Tuesday he recalled attending a citizens meeting in 2004 before the council approved the site plan.
If not for “a little economic downturn,” he said, construction of these houses would have started more than a decade ago, and the town would already be contending with an influx of people who some residents fear will flood downtown businesses, overwhelm the local police force and swell an already overcrowded school system.
In that meeting 15 years ago, the council asked residents where they want to be in 25 years. He recalled a similar conversation in the 1990s, and people said they wanted the town to grow.
“We do not want to be a bedroom community,” he said. “We want to be a self-sufficient town in the 21st century.”
“That’s what we began to design about 12 years ago,” he said.
Attending Tuesday's meeting were Bishop, Cherrix, Massoud, Nicholson, Reynolds, Plitt, Vena and Terndrup. Orndorff and Town Manager Wyatt Pearson were absent.