Council approves planned neighborhood; City outlines coronavirus preparations

The plans for the planned community were created by Colman Engineering, PLC.

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

A multi-generational planned community is one step closer to fruition after their rezoning request won approval from the Harrisonburg City Council in their meeting Tuesday evening. The group Harrisonburg Cohousing plans to build the neighborhood, called Juniper Hill Commons, on a five-and-a-half acre plot on Keezletown Road, just off of Country Club Road. 

“Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing that offers residents an old-fashioned sense of neighborhood. In cohousing, residents know their neighbors well and there is a strong sense of community that is absent in contemporary cities and suburbs,” according to the development’s website

The planned community will include a building that could serve as common area for residents, as well as a neighborhood recreation area. 

As a result of the council’s action, the property, which had been zoned as R1 single family residential, will now be zoned as R7, or a “medium density mixed residential planned community district” – a class designed to include a mix of housing types within a master plan for the community. Previously, the council has approved four other R7 neighborhoods in the city, including The Village at Chicago Park off of Chicago Avenue.

The council voted 4-0 in favor of the rezoning. Council member Chris Jones was absent from the meeting.

Conceptual drawings submitted to the council show plans for 28 units to be built on the property – a mix of townhouses, duplexes, multi-family units with a community building, and one single-family detached home. The property is bisected by a creek; the homes will be concentrated between the creek and the road, with the back half of the property reserved for common open space and stormwater management. Units will be priced between roughly $250,000 and $350,000.

Ervin Stutzman, a member of Harrisonburg Cohousing, said during the public hearing that the project “is based on a vision for healthy social interaction and environmental sustainability. The community layout, the specific amenities, and the house plans are designed to help meet those goals.”

Project consultant Peter Lazar, who lives in a cohousing neighborhood in Blacksburg described it as “a front porch culture kind of living” that provides both privacy and social interaction in a pedestrian-centric setup.

Stutzman said they have had several face-to-face meetings with the surrounding property owners, and had made changes to the plans based on that feedback, such as agreeing to put up an 8-foot fence along part of one property line. 

Council member George Hirschmann said one neighbor, who had sent a letter to the council, was still not pleased with how close the parking area would be to that person’sproperty line.

Staff recommended approval of the rezoning request and the planning commission approved it 5-0, with one commissioner absent and another recusing himself for a conflict of interest. 

Vice-mayor Sal Romero, who also serves on the commission, said at Tuesday night’s meeting that while he was disappointed that the project wouldn’t be affordable to most low-income families, it was still “exciting to have something like this come to Harrisonburg.”

Preparing in case of emergency

City Manager Eric Campbell said in the meeting that the city is closely monitoring the latest information on the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there are now eight “presumptive positive” cases of the disease in Virginia, scattered among Loudoun County, Virginia Beach, Fairfax County, Spotsylvania County, Arlington County, Fairfax city, and the U.S. Marine base Quantico.

Campbell told The Citizen after the meeting that, should a case occur in Harrisonburg, “it would be the health agencies that would take the lead,” namely, the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said that all city departments have emergency protocol in place to “be responsive” to the health agencies in that event. 

Aging water infrastructure

The council also received an update about the city’s water and sewer infrastructure – specifically that a lot of pipe will need to be replaced in the next 20 years. 

Director of Public Utilities Mike Collins proposed that water rates be increased by 4% each year between 2021 and 2031, and sewer rates by 2.5% each year between 2022 and 2029, to pay for these infrastructure updates. 

Collins said in the first year, with a four percent water rate increase, the average family would only see their monthly bill increase by about 60 cents.

He estimated that about $60 million worth of water infrastructure, about 27% of the entire system, will need to be replaced in the next 20 years. For sewer infrastructure, they’re looking at about $37 million worth, or about 36% of the entire system.

Collins pointed to the drawn-out construction on East Market Street last year as a cautionary tale. Part of that project was replacing old water lines – one of which dated back to 1898.

“I think the future looks a lot like East Market Street in a lot of other places,” he said. Collins said fixing repeated water breaks can be costly, especially when they cause considerable pavement damage.

“Instead of fixing that thing four times, I need to get it out of there,” Collins said. “What’s the best way to spend our money?”

Also at the meeting:

  • Campbell announced that, within the next few days, the city should receive new bond ratings from the agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to reflect the more than $100 million in debt needed to build the new high school.
  • The council unanimously approved a special use permit for Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community to allow it to tear down and replace three “quad-plexes” that front Park Road over the next five years. 

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