The Warrenton Planning Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have allowed landlords to double the number of apartments per acre in the central business district.
At the August 16 commission meeting, commissioners were split 3-3 on a proposal to amend the zoning ordinance, allowing for increased residential density – from 25 per acre to 50 per acre – between streets S 5th at Diagonal and John E. Mann at E Franklin Streets with Special Use Permit.
The motion to adopt the amendment failed because there was no majority.
During the meeting, Chris Mothersead, who was the former Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Warrenton, addressed the commission on behalf of claimant Malcolm Alls, the owner of Alls Real Estate. Previously, Mothersead came before the council with the same proposal in November 2021 and again in January.
Mothersead told commissioners the main reason the text was amended was that the pandemic had contributed to a rapid decline in retail sales and office employment in recent years, leading to rising vacancy rates for offices.
As a result, he said owners are struggling to pay their debts, especially for older buildings in the city’s historic district.
“The loss of office rent for 3-5 offices on the upper floors means a 40% or more drop in revenue with its resultant loss of sales tax, BPOL tax and increased difficulty in paying property tax” , Mothersead said in her vindication statement. .
According to Mothersead, the text amendment would have helped ease the financial pressure on town center property owners by allowing for more mixed-use development in which the ground floors would remain commercial and the upper floors of the buildings would become residential.
“The new density allows for better use of the building and upper floors and provides financial support for the buildings,” Mothersead told commissioners on Tuesday. “The alternative…is deterioration and potential demolition, especially for historic structures…”
Following Mothersead’s presentation on Tuesday, commissioners Ryan Stewart, Ali Zarabi and Steve Ainsworth, who voted in favor of the proposal, said they thought the idea would be a “great opportunity” for owners.
Commissioners Susan Rae Helander, James Lawrence and Gerald Johnston, who voted against the amendment, cited various reasons why they were against the proposal. But they said their main concern was whether Warrenton’s infrastructure – such as parking, water and sewer and traffic – would be able to accommodate the increased number of people moving downtown. .
“And I’m just afraid that if we just let it all in without taking care of the infrastructure, we’re going to have a mess here,” Johnston said. “And I would like to see a bit more controlled growth.”
Mothersead said in the rationale statement that if the amendment passes, approximately 105 units would be added and the estimated additional population would be between 189 and 262 people.
Further, he noted in the rationale that the average 1-2 bedroom apartment would typically contain two residents producing approximately 120-180 gallons per day (60-80 gallons/person).
“This is a 2 to 3 times increase or, applied to assumed residential growth on Main Street, approximately 19,500 gallons per day for the entire area,” Mothersead said. “The Warrenton Public Works Department advised that such impacts would be readily accommodated in existing sewage and water systems.”
Lawrence, who is vice-chairman of the commission, expressed concern about the availability of affordable housing downtown and accused the claimant of not making efforts to address the issue adequately.
“The plaintiff spent a very long time discussing with the city, and at every meeting we expressed that concern,” he said. “And each time the candidates come back without talking about it.”
Mothersead noted in the rationale that the apartments “would tend to be 1 or 2 bedroom units that rent between $1,200 and $1,500 per month. These units are affordable compared to the housing stock and appeal to single people, couples and millennials.
However, Lawrence chastised the idea that $1,200-1,500 a month for a 1-2 bedroom apartment was considered affordable in Warrenton.
“I think that’s the first thing you look for when you increase density, you say, ‘Are they setting aside affordable housing? And I think the repeated refusal to work on this and instead asking us to work on it – when we’ve repeatedly said that’s our concern here – to me that’s a mistake on your part. not to address affordable housing,” Lawrence said. . “And that’s disappointing.”