The March 15th Planning Commission (PC) meeting was well-attended and Willshire was on the agenda.
Summary: Many in attendance voiced their concerns about the development proposed for the center of town. Well over a dozen citizens spoke out in opposition to the current plan of 75 homes, including 29 three story town homes. Comments focused on:
- keeping the small town feel and the need for a long-range perspective, that this development will carry on for centuries to come and in its current state would ruin our historic town center.
- asking why the Town hasn’t taken advantage of free expert advice from the State and County Offices and Planning and Historic Preservation to review the Miller and Smith proposal? Planning Chair Cal Sneed responded they “may do so at an appropriate time.”
- expressing continued opposition to the high-density plan, the small amount of green space, and out-of-scale 3-story townhomes. The Planning Board was asked why it is not giving more guidance to the developer to decrease the density. They did not respond. Instead, they are only allowing for a decrease of a few units to meet storm water and open space regulations.
- asking why the Planning Commissioners have never mentioned the overarching concern of too much density expressed by dozens of citizens at multiple hearings and by the 610 people who have signed the petition, with many comments asking for lower density? They were asked if they even read the comments.
- asking why the lack of feasibility study or look at a senior living option; and Miller and Smith's singular focus of money (they don't live here, work here, or send their kids to school here)?
- asking if the Town had thought of meeting with the Willards to discuss a “dedication option” resulting in a significant tax break or grant money for the landowners in return for donation of development rights on a portion of the parcel. This would allow for creation of a historic heritage park, perhaps even named for the Willards, connecting Whalen Commons with the John Poole House.
- questioning Planning Chair Cal Sneed, who said he wanted to work with Miller and Smith and the Willards, stating that “if we don’t allow this, something worse could happen on this parcel.” He was challenged on this statement by several speakers. A member of Historic Medley District said that “Appendix C in the Master Plan gave them the latitude to make decisions in keeping with scale of our historic town.” Another speaker said that statement is an old tactic often used by developers and their supporters to intimidate residents.
More highlights: Others discussed their concern about the supply and demand issue in Poolesville. Townhomes with a price-point in at least the upper-400s (to 500s) does not fit the Poolesville buyer. People who will spend that much want amenities not found in Poolesville. Too much inventory in the housing market will impact home values.
The PC discussed guidance that they will provide to Miller and Smith, based upon the PC discussion from January and the joint work session in February. [Please note: PoP will distribute the resulting PC document when it is made available to the public.] The PC discussed the following:
- village look and feel (ensure compliance in materials and aesthetic, and contains a senior living component)
- walkability (a greenway to connect the Commons to the John Poole House)
- parkland (developer should work with the Historic Medley District to restore the arboretum, continuous parkland near the John Poole House)
- town homes (need for guest parking, 3D model requested with adjacent properties)
- forest conservation (potential for fee-in-lieu for plantings at the arboretum)
- Glass Way (consider traffic calming options in Tama, make the road connecting Beall to Glass Way slightly inconvenient)
- density (allow the process to bring down the density naturally via storm water regulations and opens space/parkland)—a desired number of units will not be provided to Miller & Smith.
- traffic (review traffic study)
The PC then opened the discussion to public comment. Many of the same issues were discussed as during the open forum, but people also shared their feelings on the PC's role in this process. Multiple people brought up that it is the PC's job to ensure the town's needs are being met, not the builder's or the landowner's needs. People said that it’s not enough to rely on the process to bring the density down—they need to give the developers guidelines on the density that would be acceptable to the town. Also it was noted that even though the code says that homes can be up to 35 feet, if they are granted the Overlay Zone, that doesn't mean that homes need to be 35 feet. The PC needs to ensure that this development maintains the town's aesthetics.
Please continue to let your commissioners and PC members know your feelings about the Willshire proposal. We'll be organizing a community meeting in the near future: if you'd like to get involved, please stay tuned.
*Please keep in mind that we strive to make accurate records, but this is a human taking notes during a fast-paced meeting.