A developer’s proposal to build a 100-unit independent living center in Middleburg appears to be headed for denial.
The Planning Commission on Monday night voted unanimously to recommend denial of a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would begin the process of changing town regulations to allow independent living centers as a special exception use in the town’s Agricultural Conservancy District.
That amendment was requested by Dan Orlich, a real estate developer and the owner of the Atlanta Gladiators ECHL hockey team, during the Feb. 14 Town Council meeting as part of his proposal to build a $27 million, 100-unit independent living center for seniors ages 55 and up on a 15.32-acre property on the eastern end of town, directly across from Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery.
Orlich at that meeting requested that the Town Council consider adding a description of “independent living” in the Comprehensive Plan as long as they were built on at least 15 acres of land with Rt. 50 frontage. He also requested that the amendment eliminate the town’s 24-unit maximum for assisted living facilities, the 20-unit maximum for independent living apartments and the 20 one-story cottage maximum.
The Planning Commission voted to recommend disapproval of the Comprehensive Plan amendment because Orlich’s proposal was inconsistent with the purposes of the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district—to “accommodate and encourage the continuation of agricultural uses within the town and to maximize and preserve areas of open space.”
About 75 residents packed into the Middelburg town office for Monday’s hearing, with others left standing in the hallway and outside. Of the nearly 20 people who addressed the commission, only two supported the project.
Mayor Bridge Littleton was the second resident to speak, noting that he was “very, very concerned” about redefining the Agricultural Conservancy zoning district to allow for unlimited units and that it’s a “slippery slope” to enact a Comprehensive Plan amendment to accommodate a single development proposal.
“This should be a rezoning or something else,” he said. “This should not be a Comprehensive Plan amendment.”
Bud Jacobs also opposed the proposal, pointing out that the pamphlets Orlich delivered to residents’ doorstops March 16, which featured imagery of Col. John S. Mosby and fox hunters and urged residents to attend the public hearing, weren’t well received. “Our town represents a good deal more than that,” he said.
Miguel Diaz, an immigrant to the U.S., said that he came to Middleburg looking for a “pristine environment” and that an independent living center would hurt that. “No one has the right to change our way of life just to make a profit,” he said.
Todd Phillips said that Orlich’s proposed independent living center was a “Trojan horse” and a “recipe for disaster.”
“We don’t know what’s inside that horse,” he said.
Brett Miller, the general manager of Blackwater Beef, spoke in support of the proposal and defended Orlich against criticism leveled by some opponents.
“He should be thanked rather than belittled,” he said. “This is an incredible opportunity for this town.”
Miller said that he had collected signatures from 84 residents in support of Orlich’s proposal.
Heather Taylor, while not supportive of the plans for a large the independent living center, encouraged town leaders to promote senior housing on a smaller scale. “I love this town—I don’t want to have to go to Winchester [for senior living],” she said.
Town Planner Will Moore is expected to brief the Town Council on the outcome of the Planning Commission meeting at its March 28 meeting.
The council also will hold a public hearing before taking a final vote on the Comprehensive Plan amendment request.