Ask anyone who’s lived in Purcellville for a while. The town has changed.
Over the past three decades, Purcellville has grown from a quiet town of 1,700 to a bustling community with a population of nearly 10,000. Once a town offering few reasons to exit off Rt. 7 to visit, it’s since become a destination for eastern Loudouners seeking a quiet day trip or tourists from throughout the region looking to experience the town’s breweries, restaurants or shops.
And after decades of explosive growth, Purcellville leaders are taking stock of where all that change has got the town and how to deal with it into the future.
This is the second installment of a monthly series on the exponential growth of western Loudoun’s once sleepy towns.
The early stages of the town’s modern growth began during the 1990s technology boom, when tech-savvy workers from across the nation targeted the Washington, DC, area as the Silicon Valley of the east and the opening of the Dulles Greenway offered a non-stop commute to the nation’s capital.
Between 1990 and 2000, the town’s population more than doubled from 1,744to 3,584. During that time, the number of households also increased from 746 to 1,292.
Rob Lohr, who served as town manager from 1993 to 2017, said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which boosted the defense contracting industry, also drove the masses to the region. According to a May 2011 report by the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, the Department of Defense increased its contract spending from $166 billion to $390 billion between 2000 and 2008. “We had people coming from all over the United States,” Lohr said.
It was around that time that new neighborhoods were developed to accommodate hundreds of new residents. Those included the 240-home Hirst Farm, the 159-home Village Case, the 208-home Locust Grove, the 137-home Old Dominion Valley, the 66-home Courts of St. Francis,and the36-home Courtland Square subdivisions.
By 2010, the population was up to 7,727, with the number of households up to 2,491.
Lohr said that in a half-decade, the town’s population grew at a rate that would take most U.S. towns a half-century to do. “I don’t think anyone was prepared for that,” he said.
It was this surge of new residents that helped fuel the Town Council’s shift in focus to commercial development, adopting a revised zoning map in 2008 that eliminated about 1,000 homes from the plans.
According to the town’s Fall 2008 Citizen Update, the rezoning was intended to “reduce potential future traffic, as well as future residential demands on public utilities and services…create a better balance between the residential and non-residential tax base…[and] increase opportunities for commercial and industrial growth.”
Bob Lazaro, who served as Purcellville’s mayor from 2006-2014, said the driving force behind the revision was to diversify the tax base—so businesses could help shoulder the town’s operating costs—and ensure that the town had enough water and sewer capacity for businesses, not just residents.
Since then, the most notable commercial development project is the 16-acre Purcellville Gateway commercial center, which was completed in 2012 and includes 88,431-square-feet of retail space, a Harris Teeter as its anchor store and three acres set aside for future residential development.
Just this year, businesses also started moving into the 6.5-acre Catoctin Corner commercial center, located across the street from Purcellville Gateway. With 40,000-square-feet of retail space, the center features a Chipotle, a drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts and a soon-to-open 5,400-square-foot Shell gas station.
The explosion in new businesses has brought the town massive amounts of new revenue in the form of not only real estate and utility taxes, but also business license fees and sales, meals, cigarette, bank franchise and communications taxes.
The town expects to generate $4.2 million in commercial tax revenue by next July. That’s 45 percent of the General Fund and 19 percent of the total operating budget.
In 2010, that number was about half that, with $2.4 million budgeted for the same revenues. It was even smaller in 2000, with the town was collecting only $583,000 in commercial tax revenue.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said that restaurants are now a primary town business, with 31 of them in operation, not including four breweries, one of the county’s three distilleries and 16 convenience, grocery and specialty food stores.In the current fiscal year, the town expects to pull in $2 million in meals tax revenue, which is about $1.3 million more than it did in 2010 and about $1.8 millionmore than it did in 2000.
According to a retail market study conducted by the urban planning firm Arnett Muldrow & Associates, sales from in-town restaurants in 2014 accounted for about 14 percent of the total food and beverage sales in Loudoun County—$146 million of $1 billion.
Fraser also noted that the town’s largest employer is and long has been Loudoun County Public Schools. In 2000, about480 employees worked for the school system in Purcellville at Loudoun Valley High School, Emerick Elementary School and Blue Ridge and Harmony Middle Schools. Now, 826 employees work at not only those schools, but also Woodgrove High School and Mountain View and Kenneth W. Culbert elementary schools, which sit just east of town.
“We are the largest host of county buildings in all of western Loudoun,” Fraser said. “The county has contributed greatly to our local economy.”
Around 2010, the town also purchased and annexed several properties, which grew the town’s size from about 2.4 to 3.2 square miles.
In 2008, the town annexed the 12.32-acre O’Toole property, located at the southeast corner of the Rt. 287/Main Street traffic circle. Beverly O’Toole, the property owner, now wants to have the property rezoned to allowa 12,000-square-foot child care center, a 23,000-square-foot hotel with three levels and 60 rooms, a 51,000-square-foot assisted living center with 70 rooms and 28,000-square-feet of retail and office space.
Also in 2008, the town purchased the 15.89-acre Fireman’s Field complex from the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Department for $1.7 million. Since implementing a Fireman’s Field service tax, which is set at 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, the town has pulled in about $2.2 million in revenue to help pay for operation and maintenance of the complex and other town-owned properties.
During a drought in 2009, the town purchased the 189-acre Aberdeen Property for $2.1 million with the intent to increase the town water system’s capacity by 300,000 gallons each day.
In 2013, the town annexed the 70.81-acre Autumn Hill and 3.98-acre Brookfield-Washington properties just across Purcellville Road from the Warner Brook property. That land is now home to the Mayfair development, including 12, 1-acre industrial lots and 103 single-family homes and 151 townhomes on 52 acres.
So much growth leading into the 2010s pressed the town to move out of its former 7,800-square-foot town hall on Main Street and into its current 15,324-square-foot town hall on Nursery Avenue in November 2011.
Today, the town is 3.42 square miles in size, has a total operating budget of $24.4 million, has 801 registered businesses and employs 70 full-time and 12 part-time people serving nearly 10,000 residents living in about 3,000 homes.
Now a month after the Purcellville Town Council voted to deny the annexation of the 131-acre Warner Brook Property, which would have increased the town’s size by 6 percent, Purcellville’s growth surge seems to be leveling off.
And moving forward, there are a few schools of thought on how the town should handle growth. One of those is to annex more land. Another is to sell utilities to residents living just outside the town limits in the county’s Joint Land Management Area to help to alleviate potential increased debt burdens on in-town residents, like the Town of Round Hill does.
Fraser, however, is more focused on existing businesses and residents. Looking ahead five years, he wants to retain the town’s current size, help existing businesses thrive and extract value from the town’s $130 million in assets. To do this, he’s focused on infill developments instead of more annexations, and improving broadband connectivity and the town’s transportation and utility systems.
Fraser is pushing for the installation of solar panels and the construction of a $280,000, 175-foot cell tower at the Basham Simms Wastewater Facility, both of which help alleviate the town’s utility fund debt, with the tower also helping to improve residents’ cell phone coverage.
“We have to find ways to better utilize our assets,” he said. “We want to listen to the will of the people.”