Warrenton 2040 Plan Update – the Wait is Over, But Has Anything Changed?

aerial of Warrenton
Aerial of Warrenton by Tom Wheeler, Altitude Adjustment LLC.

On January 26 the Warrenton Planning Commission held a work session on the postponed Warrenton 2040 Master Plan and the Commercial Zoning Text Amendment. Overall, we learned that the Warrenton 2040 Plan is largely the same as it was 6 months ago. The proposed zoning text amendment now includes an optional Special Use Permit (SUP) requirement, but the first option being considered still allows for by-right development. (detailed info on both proposals below).

The planning commission will hold another work session on February 11 and vote on recommendations to send to the town council on February 16 (scroll down to see the full timeline).

Quick update on the zoning text amendment:

The good news…

  • There is now a second option on the table, which would require a Special Use Permit (SUP) for horizontal mixed-use in commercial zoning instead of allowing it “by-right”. This would allow the town to hear public input and deny poor applications.
    • Horizontal mixed-use – allows residential units like townhouses and duplexes to be built as standalone buildings separate from commercial. Without the ability to review this type of design, we could end up with auto-centric developments that aren’t walkable.
    • Vertical mixed-use – Combines different uses within the same building e.g. apartments above ground retail. *Note – this type of mixed-use is already allowed under current zoning
    • Learn more about the difference between horizontal and vertical mixed-use

The bad news…

  • The planning commission is set to consider the zoning text amendment at the same time they consider the 2040 master plan, which is still premature. Zoning should be based on an approved master plan.
  • The planning commission will still be considering the by-right option which would limit the town’s ability to improve the design, hear community input on the proposal, or mitigate impacts from the development (e.g. traffic).
  • The SUP option is much better but requiring a rezoning to this new mixed-use type would be ideal because it would enable the Town to address unmitigated impacts through developer proffers too.

Read more of our concerns about the zoning text amendment in the email we sent out in December.

Warrenton 2040 Plan

The Warrenton 2040 Plan outlines a new trajectory for the Town of Warrenton which focuses more on residential development. The purpose is to create a live/work scenario that offers more residential opportunities to match the high level of employment available in the town. 

The substance of the updated draft plan is largely the same as it was 6 months ago, but the content has been rearranged into easier to digestible sections accessed by the hyperlinks

And although there have been other improvements, such as the removal of the term “by-right” from the plan, most of the concerns we raised in this letter to the planning commission have not been addressed

With the planning commission scheduled to consider this new version on February 16 and comments desired by February 8, the town is still not giving adequate time to residents to review this new version. 

From a PEC perspective, we will be asking that the town..

  • Include in this plan an evaluation of existing capacity under current zoning, a growth target for meeting the desired housing goals, and the maximum percentage of residential and minimum percentage of commercial desired in each Character District. This should help guide zoning decisions.
  • Reevaluate the fiscal and economic resilience of Warrenton, comparing Warrenton with other towns not counties.
  • Reevaluate the broad application of mixed-use zoning in the Character Districts and target incentives such as residential allowances and streamlined approvals to priority redevelopment and infill sites. 
  • Engage stakeholders in conversations about the Timberfence Parkway and remove the Southern Parkway from the plan. Evaluate the traffic implications of the proposed growth and the costs associated with needed improvements. Ensure that these improvements are paid by development, not by existing taxpayers.
  • Provide an explanation about how peak water demand will be met and incorporate the planned raising of the dam and increasing the size of the reservoir included in the adopted Capital Improvement Plan. Provide cost estimates for all needed water and wastewater expansions associated with projected growth. 
  • Adopt a master park plan, Town Streetscape Manual, Town-Wide Tree Plan, and performance standards for protecting environmental features of the Town before incentivizing mixed-use development of the remaining undeveloped land. 

The January 26th version of the Warrenton 2040 Plan is available here with hyperlinks to sub sections available here

Commercial Zoning Text Amendment

The proposed zoning amendment would apply to all areas highlighted in red.

The purpose of the proposed zoning text amendment is to accelerate the redevelopment of old shopping centers into mixed-use developments with townhouses, duplexes, senior dwellings, condos, apartments, etc in combination with new commercial uses. Mixed-use development is a good goal, but the Town Council should review the scale, timing and design through a rezoning process and mitigate impacts through developer contributed proffers. 

In December the Planning Commission considered making this mixed-use development option “by-right” which would have limited the town’s ability to improve the design or mitigate impacts from the development (e.g. traffic). The current draft includes a second option of requiring a Special Use Permit (SUP) for mixed-use developments. Although this option is much better because it allows the public to comment on applications and gives the Town the ability to deny poor proposals, it is still not ideal because it does not allow the Town to collect proffers to mitigate impacts. Most importantly though, the zoning should be based on an approved master plan. The Town needs to adopt the Warrenton 2040 Plan prior to adopting this zoning change rather than considering these items in tandem. This zoning change would impact all commercial zoning in Town and should not be rushed.

Information about the two options being considered are available here

Timeline so far…

  • June 16, 2020 – Planning Commission held Worksession on Draft Warrenton 2040 Plan and indicated adoption by Town Council was planned for September 8.
  • July 21, 2020 – Planning Commission held Public Hearing on Draft Warrenton 2040 Plan and received numerous letters expressing concern; the decision was postponed
  • July – January 2021 – Subcommittee of Planning Commission streamlined and generalized language in the master plan
  • December 15, 2020 – Planning Commission held Public Hearing on commercial zoning amendment to add additional residential development options and received numerous concerns about making zoning changes prior to plan adoption; the decision was postponed
  • January 26, 2021 – Worksession on updated version of draft Warrenton 2040 Plan and new option for Commercial Zoning Text Amendment. 
  • January 27, 2021 – Updated version of draft Warrenton 2040 Plan released to public
  • February 8, 2021Public comments requested by this date, giving a little over a week for public review
  • February 11, 2021 – Second Planning Commission work session on the plan scheduled
  • February 16, 2021 – Planning Commission intends to vote to send recommendations to the town council on both the Warrenton 2040 Plan and possibly the Commercial Zoning Text Amendment

Questions? Contact Julie Bolthouse at jbolthouse@pecva.org.