May 21, 2024

WINCHESTER — The Northern Shenandoah Valley is such a nice place to live, raise a family and retire that the University of Virginia‘s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service released data in January showing that Winchester-Frederick County has been the fastest-growing region in the state for the past three years.

With so much residential and business growth in the pipeline, the trick is finding ways to manage it while retaining the area’s charm and character.

Winchester officials may have found a solution in something called Neighborhood Design Districts, which would be designated areas of the city where the local government wants to direct future growth via new construction or the repurposing of existing buildings.

Winchester Community Development Director Mike Ruddy said four proposed design districts — one in each of the city’s voting wards — have been identified based on the land and properties in those areas that could be better developed to provide greater benefits to both the city and its residents.

“It’s been a long-standing goal of the city through the Comprehensive Plan to see change in those areas, to allow new development and redevelopment to occur,” Ruddy said on Tuesday. “This gives us the ability to do that and create some places that people really want to live in or live near.”

Winchester’s four proposed Neighborhood Design Districts are located along:

Fairmont Avenue in Ward 1. (This would include the currently stalled 550 Fairmont Avenue, which is the name of a proposed residential and business development next to National Fruit Product Co.‘s industrial campus.)

Berryville Avenue in Ward 2.

South Pleasant Valley Road in Ward 3. (This would include the former Federal Mogul property.)

Valley Avenue, Cedar Creek Grade and Weems Lane in Ward 4. (This would include the redevelopment of Ward Plaza.)

Creating a vision for the future of the four districts will not occur in a bubble. Ruddy said citizen involvement is key for developing the Neighborhood Design Districts.

“The idea is to get a clear understanding of what people would like to see in these areas, making sure that the neighborhood designs that will be created are based in market reality and can support a certain number of residential units, commercial units, whatever that might be,” Ruddy said. “Folks have generally been very, very positive with their feedback about wanting to see positive changes in these areas.”

If the new Neighborhood Design Districts are approved by City Council, Ruddy said the local government would start proactively rezoning land within the districts to support the visions created by city residents and officials. With the appropriate zoning in place, residential and commercial developers who build or redevelop within one of the districts would not have to seek special permissions from council in the form of planned unit development (PUD) designations.

Here’s an example: If someone today wanted to build an apartment complex on land zoned for single-family housing, they would have to obtain a PUD from City Council. A Neighborhood Design District would already have multifamily zoning (if suited for that area) in place, so developers would not need to go through the months-long process of obtaining a PUD. They may also be less likely to build in areas that don’t already have the appropriate zoning in place.

Ruddy said the city wouldn’t have to market these districts to developers because there is already a pressing demand to build in Winchester.

With new property development, though, would come the need for new roads and public services. Ruddy said the Neighborhood Design Districts would make it possible to create and sustain that infrastructure without raising taxes on all city residents and businesses. To do so, it would implement something called Tax Increment Financing.

“It provides for the things that are needed to support the development,” Ruddy said. “Roads, road improvements, pedestrian accommodations, bicycle accommodations, aesthetic things, parks and open spaces.”

Here’s how Tax Increment Financing would work: Businesses and homes that locate within a Neighborhood Design District would pay the city’s standard taxes on real estate, personal property, etc. As more development occurs within a district, property values would increase and, correspondingly, so would the amount of taxes paid by the business owners and residents within the district. The extra tax revenues collected by the city due to higher property values would be used exclusively to create and support infrastructure and public services within the districts, sidestepping the need for citywide tax increases to build roads and other improvements.

“It’s being paid for as the development occurs,” Ruddy said. “It’s a more proactive way for the city to incentivize and catalyze growth in these areas.”

He stressed that the Neighborhood Design Districts are not intended to ramp up development and make Winchester resemble crowded and traffic-snarled Northern Virginia.

“This is very controlled development focused to create great neighborhoods,” Ruddy said. “Very targeted and very community driven.”

The city is taking a gradual approach to implementing Neighborhood Design Districts. To start, officials are only focusing on two of them: Fairmont Avenue in Ward 1 and Valley Avenue/Cedar Creek Grade/Weems Lane in Ward 4.

First, public input is being sought to name the two districts. Ruddy said the Ward 4 site, based on suggestions received to date, is being called the Cedar Valley Neighborhood Design District. The Ward 1 site along Fairmont Avenue, though, hasn’t been named yet.

Anyone who would like to suggest a name for the Fairmont Avenue district is invited to fill out a form at The leading name candidates at the moment are Cider Hill, Northtown, Juice District and Apple Packing District, but any name can be suggested.

Next week, the public is invited to learn more about the proposed Cedar Valley Neighborhood Design District along Valley Avenue at an informal meeting scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. April 17 at Ward Plaza, located at 2260 Valley Ave. Ruddy said the plan is to hold the meeting in one of the shopping center’s storefronts.

Ruddy said city officials hope to finish creating the Fairmont and Cedar Valley districts by the end of the year, “then we’ll move on to the next two, Berryville Avenue and the Federal Mogul site.” When that happens, people living in those areas will be asked to suggest names for the new districts.

To learn more about, and to follow the progress of, Winchester’s Neighborhood Design Districts, visit winchesterva.gov.

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