WINCHESTER — The city’s Planning Commission was presented with three separate proposals Tuesday for residential developments that could include up to 83 dwellings.
“We do very much need these houses,” commission member Sandra Bloom said during the panel’s work session in Rouss City Hall.
The first two proposals would be companion developments separated by a small cluster of existing businesses — a First Bank and Trust Co. branch at 611 W. Jubal Early Drive, a Veterans Subs shop at 621 W. Jubal Early Drive and a Children of America preschool at 631 W. Jubal Early Drive. As submitted, 25 townhomes would be built on 1.9 vacant acres south of the businesses at 601 W. Jubal Early Drive, and 26 would be constructed on 3.9 acres of open land north of them at 641 W. Jubal Early Drive.
Tim Painter of the engineering firm Painter-Lewis PLC of Winchester, which was contracted by Stoneridge Cos. Inc. of Winchester to design the Jubal Early projects, said all of the townhouses would be three stories tall and include three bedrooms, two full baths, two half baths and one-car garages.
“These would not be rentals; these are for-sale homes,” Stoneridge CEO John Willingham told the commission.
According to documentation shared on Tuesday, the 51 townhouses are anticipated to sell for $375,000 each.
The third residential development proposal would bring 32 apartments to 2 acres of land at 1811 Roberts St., directly behind City National Bank at 1830 Valley Ave.
If that address sounds familiar, it’s because a planned-unit development (PUD) overlay to the land zoned Highway Commercial (B-2) was approved by City Council in 2020 for the construction of 36 two-bedroom apartments in three separate buildings. However, the prospective developer of the apartments, Richard W. Pifer Sr. of Winchester, did not submit a site plan within two years and the PUD expired.
The property has changed hands since the 2020 rezoning was approved. According to Winchester real estate records, Robert S. Janney sold the 2-acre site for $620,000 on Feb. 22, 2022, to Dave Holliday Rentals LLC of Winchester.
On Tuesday, Dave Holliday Rentals presented the Planning Commission with an application seeking a new PUD for 32 apartments in a pair of four-story buildings containing 16 units each, and informed the panel that the site is now projected to include a 2,700-square-foot commercial building as well. Winchester Senior Planner David Stewart said the commercial facility would potentially be “a professional office-type structure.”
Estimates shared with the commission state the apartments are expected to have a net tax benefit to city coffers of $42,590 per year after covering expenses for infrastructure, emergency services and education. A fiscal analysis submitted by Dave Holliday Rentals anticipates that four school-age children would call the apartments home once they’re built.
The requested Roberts Street rezoning raised few concerns with the Planning Commission, but members had a mixed reaction to the Jubal Early proposals. Some said they want the project to be approved because Winchester is in the midst of a significant housing shortage, while others expressed concerns about the designs of the buildings and the loss of potential development sites for commercial uses.
“I’m not big on three-story townhouses,” Commissioner Brandon Pifer said. “And I’m not sold on 100% residential there.”
“Since the [COVID-19] pandemic, demand for commercial space has completely cratered,” Bloom countered.
Both of the Jubal Early parcels are currently zoned Planned Commercial (PC) because the city has, for several years, hoped that businesses would be interested in locating there. Building the townhouses and adding enough residential density to the land would require the sites to be rezoned to B-2 with PUD overlays.
If the 51 townhouses are built, documentation submitted to the Planning Commission estimates the dwellings would generate $60,541 in annual tax revenues for city coffers after Winchester covers its costs to serve the development.
Documents estimate 15 or 16 school-age children would call the townhouses home, but Willingham and members of the Planning Commission noted the city school system is currently under capacity and is hoping to bolster its enrollment numbers.
As incentive for the city to grant the rezonings, Stoneridge is offering a series of proffers that would benefit the nearby Green Circle Trail and Abrams Creek Wetlands. Those proffers include a $1,000 donation per each occupied property and the gifting of 2 acres of land, both for an expansion of the trail and wetlands.
Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans said city staff supports the rezoning for the 26 proposed townhouses at 641 W. Jubal Early Drive because that parcel is not very conducive for commercial development. However, staff is recommending denial of the rezoning needed for the 25 townhouses at 601 W. Jubal Early Drive because that is considered prime real estate for commercial development, which generates more taxes and fees than residential properties.
“We want clarity from the applicant” about how Stoneridge would proceed if only one property is rezoned, Youmans said.
“That is a really difficult question to answer,” Willingham said, but he indicated his company may be willing to develop just one of the sites.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold public hearings on all three rezoning proposals at its next meeting on Sept. 19 in Rouss City Hall. The panel’s recommendations will then be forwarded to City Council, which will cast the final votes.
Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Winchester Planning Commission work session in Rouss City Hall were Chairwoman Lacey Burnett, Vice Chairwoman Leesa Mayfield and members Brandon Pifer, Mady Rodriguez, John Fox, Sandra Bloom and Mark Dyck.
WINCHESTER — Ward Plaza has been sold to a private investor who plans on tearing it down and replacing it with a mix of homes, retail stores and offices.
“The city has been encouraging the redevelopment of Ward Plaza for a long time, and being able to partner with a developer to bring more housing and retail opportunities to the area will be a massive benefit for all of our residents,” City Manager Dan Hoffman said after the $10 million sale was finalized on Thursday afternoon.
H. Paige Manuel, who works with OakCrest Commercial Real Estate at 126 N. Kent St. and represented Ward Plaza’s owner in the sale, said the deal was closed in McLean and paperwork will be filed today in the Winchester Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.
Ward Plaza, located on a 19.6-acre parcel in the 2400 block of Valley Avenue, was Winchester’s first shopping center when it opened in 1964, but it has been in a steady decline for more than 20 years. That’s because its highly popular anchor store, Montgomery Ward, closed in December 2000 after its corporate parent declared bankruptcy.
The shell of the former department store, which comprises about a fourth of the shopping center, has remained empty for two decades, save for some automotive repair businesses that located in Montgomery Ward’s former service garage. With no anchor store, the shopping center as a whole had difficulty attracting tenants and shoppers.
In 2013, an economic development report commissioned by Rouss City Hall referred to Ward Plaza as “an outdated facility that is no longer fully competitive for market area retail sales” and noted “the shopping center is well located but poorly maintained and managed.”
Since the city of Winchester is just 9.3 square miles in size and prohibited by Virginia’s General Assembly from expanding, city officials for the past decade have actively encouraged a sale of Ward Plaza so its nearly 20 acres could be used for something more beneficial to Winchester and its residents.
In January, the Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) was contacted by a group called Winchester Acquisition Partners LLC, headed by private investor John Wesley Gray Jr. of McLean, that was interested in buying Ward Plaza, tearing down the shopping center and replacing it with homes and businesses.
To help the limited liability corporation purchase the property, which the city of Winchester has valued at $8,374,000, the EDA agreed to obtain a bank loan for $4 million and give the money to Gray as an economic incentive. The EDA is an independent, self-governing body, and no tax dollars were used to generate or manage the loan.
Gray has agreed to repay the $4 million loan to the EDA over time at an interest rate higher than the 5.07% the EDA is paying to the bank. However, if Winchester Acquisition Partners defaults on the debt, City Council has agreed to cover the amount due using taxpayer revenues.
“The acquisition of a property like this, for revitalization in the heart of our city, presents a great promise for the future of the city of Winchester,” interim Economic Development Director Jeff Buettner said on Thursday. “The EDA is very excited to be a key partner in this project.”
According to a media release from Rouss City Hall, the redeveloped Ward Plaza will include “a 40,000-square-foot anchor tenant and a mix of homes and retail space.” The names of the anchor tenant and potential stores have not been disclosed, but there is an indication that one of them may be a grocery store.
At City Council’s meeting on May 23, it approved a resolution backing the EDA’s $4 million loan to Winchester Acquisition Partners. Language in the resolution stated the redevelopment of Ward Plaza would “provide housing, retail and grocery opportunities.”
Bringing a grocery store to southern Winchester would be a boon to residents of that area of the city, which has been deemed a food desert because there are currently no places within walking distance to buy fresh meat or produce.
Until Thursday, Ward Plaza had been owned by Walter Enterprises LC of Woodstock, whose founder, Richard R. Walter, purchased the shopping center on April 8, 1985. Walter died on April 17, 2018, and his corporation was passed down to his two daughters.
Over the past 12 years, Manuel said there were four unsuccessful attempts to sell Ward Plaza. Each deal fell through after the prospective buyers completed six-month property studies and determined the potential profit margin was too low.
The problem with those deals, Manuel has said, boiled down to the potential buyers wanting to use the site as is, or with minor improvements, and then discovering they couldn’t turn a profit with that business practice.
Winchester Acquisition Partners took a different approach by saying it wanted to tear down Ward Plaza and replace it with a mix of homes and businesses. Manuel has said demolition could begin as early as October.
The only two buildings that will be left standing at the shopping center are two businesses at the front of Ward Plaza — Manolete’s Taqueria Gourmet restaurant and a Tobacco Hut vape store — that are locked into five-year leases that Winchester Acquisition Partners must honor.