PoP Recap: Joint Work-Session, Willshire Proposal

 The Feb. 15th Planning Commission (PC) meeting was a joint work session between the PC Members and the Poolesville Commissioners to discuss the current Willshire Development proposal, with developer Miller & Smith in attendance. Below is a bottom-line summary, with detailed notes following.


SUMMARY: Feb 15 PC Meeting on the Willshire Proposal for 75 homes in Town Center

  • Despite the overwhelming feedback from town residents through letters and our PoP petition for lower density (which now includes 554 individual signatures), some members of the PC and Town Commission continue to support high density.
  • It was said that the proposed development might not be feasible without the inclusion of townhomes. It could also be argued that Poolesville already has an abundance of townhomes. If you have concerns about townhomes in the town center (either their presence or whether they’re 2 or 3 stories), please make your voice heard: write commissioners and/or attend meetings to share your opinion.
  • Commissioner Jim Brown raised the specter of something unsightly being built in place of Willshire, should this plan not go through. PC member Kevin Schramm countered that zoning should not be “guided by fear.”
  • Commissioner Brown questioned why residents haven’t protested the development of 60 homes off West Willard, if they are so concerned about the impact of Willshire. Commissioner Martin Radigan noted that these homes are not in the center of town and will be have ½ to 1/3 acre lots, so density is not a concern.
  • Bottom Line: Residents have more work to do to influence the PC vote on this plan. Please encourage friends and family to attend the next meeting on March 15.


DETAILED NOTES: Feb. 15 Meeting

Moderator Link Hoewing opened the work session by explaining that the purpose of the meeting was for the PC and Commissioners to discuss key aspects of the Willshire proposal, adding that there would be no public input. George Coakley, former PC chairperson for 16 years, briefly presented on the current Master Plan (developed in 2011). He highlighted that it was created from 2009-2011, shortly after the economic downturn in 2008 and right after Selby’s closed. The goals in the 2011 Master Plan highlighted during Coakley’s presentation included: maintaining small-town character, developing an aesthetically pleasing streetscape, creating a core downtown area to invigorate businesses, creating mixed-use spaces in the downtown, and having businesses that create a social magnet. He also discussed a few areas that he thought were challenges for the current PC including: determining the relevancy of the Master Plan vision, determining the applicability of the overlay zone, and orchestrating collaborative planning (finding the balance between what is best for the town while meeting the needs of the property owner).


Cal Sneed, PC Chairman, asked each Commissioner and PC member to share what they like and don’t like about the current Willshire proposal.


Valaree Dickerson, Town Commissioner, stated that she likes the small-town feel but expressed concerns about the townhouse cluster (thinks we need townhomes but doesn’t want to see them when driving on Fischer Ave; issue with the height), overflow parking (wants to ensure that ample space has been planned so that the municipality lots around the Commons and Town Hall don’t end up being overflow parking), accessibility in and out of the neighborhood, the width of the streets, the green space (doesn’t want broken-up green space), and wants to ensure there will be a senior-appropriate floor plan. Dickerson commented that the Master Plan is in place to determine the direction of the community and that the town has only one chance to get it right so they need to be meticulous.


Chuck Stump, Town Commissioner and Commissioner Liaison to the PC, said that he saw two main issues: the townhouses and the density. He feels that the boards need to decide if they do or do not want townhomes and how much density they want to see in the Willard property.


Martin Radigan, Town Commissioner, noted feedback from letters and petition comments from the community including: townhomes (most people don’t want townhomes on this site or they want them smaller and put towards the back of the property), more continuous green space is needed, more of a buffer for the John Poole House is needed, and that density should be kept around 35-45 homes. He stated that the Willard property is a geographically important parcel and we only have one shot to get it right. The overwhelming feedback he has heard from residents is that people want to keep the density of Willshire way down.


Bryan Bupp, PC Member, commented that the town has an opportunity to highlight historic buildings and that he has been reading and listening to the concerns of community citizens (losing small-town charm and concerns with town zoning).


Michael Timms, PC Member, stated concerns include: density, traffic flow with only one egress, additional traffic in town, the need for continuous green space, and walkability along the length of the commercial district. He questioned how realistic business viability is with the 6500-population cap for Poolesville. He also asked if the builder could be made to provide some of the things that the town needs such as improving the walkability of the commercial district.


Town Commissioner Jerry Klobukowski’s comments on the current plan included: once houses are built there is no going back; we need to highlight the town’s agricultural and historical roots (green-way to John Poole house and fixing the gazebo); include more concentrated green space; do not accept a fee-in-lieu for park space; must ensure there is an HOA and a management company set-up; need to connect Glass Way to the Willshire development; does not favor townhomes (he wants no variances for townhomes and no shared wall between garages). Klobukowski also brought up an idea suggested via letter to the commissioners by a town citizen, which suggested a Willard Agricultural Center and Research Facility along with about 30 homes on the property. He asked that a 3D mock-up of the concept plan be made and presented by the developer, Miller & Smith, because the current map just shows lots.


Kevin Schramm, PC Member, discussed things that make Poolesville unique (that we are surrounded by a moat of the agricultural reserve and that we cherish that we don’t look like every other place). He noted that the sidewalks are horrible between the Commons and 109 and stated that he would like to see the houses in the Willshire concept plan moved back to create a sidewalk.


Jim Brown, Town Commission President, noted that he isn’t concerned about an age-in place option because the developer, Miller & Smith, said that they would have a senior-friendly floor plan option. He also said that density isn’t a concern and that he couldn’t comment on it because neither he nor anyone else (at the table or in the audience) is an urban planner. Brown feels that the PC has made it clear to the developer that we need to enhance our history and that the PC will take care of the green space. He feels that townhouses are a make or break deal – that the proposal may not go forward without the townhomes. He said that traffic concerns are important and that we have people who study this. He felt that Poolesville needs to set the bar higher (not just say we are who we are) and to look at the long-term, big picture. He questioned why people have not been upset about a neighborhood proposed near the high school off West Willard that would add about 60 homes. (Radigan countered that these homes are on ½ to 1/3 acre lots so density is not a concern, and that they are not at the town center.) Brown talked about the Master Plan (says we aren’t going to develop in the agricultural reserve and instead would concentrate development in the center of town) and the vision statement from the Master Plan (says density in the downtown area is important). He then stated that the Willards could sell that property tomorrow and it could be developed per current zoning as a commercial property. He emphasized that the Willshire proposal needs to be treated with respect. He also stated that he doesn’t have a density number in mind. Kevin Schramm then stated that zoning decisions should not be made “out of fear.”


Cal Sneed, PC Chairman, stated that he has great fear about alternative uses if the Willshire development doesn’t go through. He stated that, when going through the process, density will naturally reduce (by adding: dedicated parkland, forestation, and the John Poole Greenway). He stated that he wants to see some number under 74. He wants to see the parkland maxed out and consolidated. Sneed stated that it needs to have a street that connects to Glass Way and he stated that this requirement is in the Master Plan. He has no problem with the townhomes and no issue with the townhomes peeking up above single-family homes. He stated that he feels that the Master Plan is relevant and that the village feel and density in the downtown is a good idea. He also feels that the overlay zone gives the town the ability to negotiate with the developer. He noted that he doesn’t think an additional 20 to 30 homes (above the current zoning of approximately 35-46 homes) will take away from the small-town feel. He stated that traffic was his biggest concern and that Glass Way needs to be opened. He also stated that senior housing is a terrific idea but doesn’t work for Poolesville because we don’t have a hospital nearby.


After each PC Member and Commissioner shared their thoughts, a discussion of some of the areas of concern took place. Some members expressed concern about changes in town demographics, economy, and the fact that our Master Plan might look differently if we had had the benefit of social media as a way to gather more resident feedback (Radigan, Klobukowski, and Schramm), while others emphasized that we need to implement the Master Plan (Dickerson, Sneed, Brown) and that the overlay zone is important to get to our 6,500 population to sustain our businesses. Radigan discussed the Town Survey included in our Master Plan, which found that residents were most concerned about growth in town. Some PC Members and Commissioners (Brown, Sneed, Bupp) stated that they read input from community members concerned about growth and felt that the addition of these homes would not take away from the small-town character and people are always concerned about growth. The overlay zone was briefly discussed with Link Hoewing stating that the purpose of the overlay is to help the town to have its needs met (i.e., sidewalks, John Poole House, moving powerlines underground) and to look towards needs in the future. Klobukowski stated that the Master Plan states that the downtown area should have mixed use properties (small shops with apartments above), but he feels that homes are better. He stated that businesses fail regardless of the population and that the PC and Commissioners can’t ensure the economic viability of businesses. Brown stated that Mooey’s needed 14 more people a day to sustain business and that we need growth to help our businesses. Radigan asked Town Manager Wade Yost for the number of homes that were currently being built (or are in the plans to be built). Yost stated that there are about 160 homes that are either approved or are looking to obtain approval. Radigan reminded the PC members and Commissioners that these will bring an additional 500 people into Poolesville, which should help to sustain businesses.


Brown stated that there is no trend of more kids in the town schools. Schramm countered that PES is 30 students over and has been for the past few years. Brown clarified that there are no significant trends compared to down county.


Hoewing noted that the town could look to tie the Willshire project into improving the streetscape and the Historic Medley assets. Yost noted that the current Willshire proposal shows property lines not homes. Timms noted that the density of Willshire is about twice the density of the rest of Poolesville. Brown noted that the project needs to stay within town character and that townhomes probably need to be there to make the project financially viable. Yost noted that only Klobukowski said that he wanted no townhomes. Radigan asked to discuss townhome placement. Brown and Yost noted that the townhomes can’t be placed at the back of the lot because of the proximity to Tama and Brightwell properties. Brown asked the developer if there is a lower spot on the property to place the townhomes. Developer stated that no, the property is relatively flat. Radigan noted that he wants the townhomes to be less prominent. Stump noted if they are shorter you won’t be able to see them. Klobukowski again noted that he wants to see a 3D model. Sneed noted that the townhomes could be moved back a row in the concept plan to move them farther from the street.


All members agreed on the need for continuous parkland and that they will not accept a fee-in-lieu for afforestation. Yost noted that for both would be about 3.5 acres.


Hoewing asked to get a consensus on senior housing. Dickerson noted they just want an option for senior appropriate floor plans.


Yost noted that there are still some minor details to work out, like attached garages. He stated that the next steps will be for the PC to create a concise list of things they want altered during the next PC meeting. In the future, once the PC is happy with the plan, they will make a recommendation to the Commissioners who will vote on the use of the overlay zone. Then the plan will move back to the PC to work out the details.


Sneed asked if anyone is opposed to the use of the overlay zone. Stump said that he is unsure at this time. Radigan said he hasn’t heard people oppose the overlay zone so much as oppose the density.


In a nutshell: residents have more work to do to influence the PC vote on this plan. Please encourage friends and family to attend the next meeting on March 15.


Save the Date: Planning Commission Meeting, Wednesday, March 15 at 7:30 pm

Voice your concerns, hold the PC accountable to the stated concerns of residents!