City manager: Winchester can handle rising residential development | Winchester star

WINCHESTER — Currently, 1,662 homes are proposed for construction in Winchester over the next three to four years.

Meanwhile, the revised comprehensive plan adopted by the city council last week states that Winchester only needs to add 123 new homes each year to meet the city’s population projections of 31,107 by 2030 and 33,031 by 2040. If each of the nearly 1,700 proposed homes and apartments are built, that would equate to enough new housing to meet growth projections for nearly 14 years.

Despite the sudden increase in housing projects, City Manager Dan Hoffman said Winchester should have no trouble accommodating thousands more residents as the number of newly built homes in the city has lagged for three decades.

For example, Hoffman said Wednesday, “From 2010 to 2020, we’ve only put 456 homes online. … We’ve got 30 years of undergrowth.”

Winchester’s inability to attract builders willing to build enough homes for its growing population – the town currently has a population of around 28,078 – has created a major housing shortage which has driven up rent and mortgage prices and made low-cost housing almost impossible to find.

On Wednesday, online rental service Zumper reported that only six apartments and two houses were available for rent in the city’s 22601 zip code. Prices ranged from $1,100 per month for a one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment on South Loudoun Street to $1,795 per month for a two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment on Valor Drive.

Online real estate service Zillow listed 12 single-family homes available for purchase Wednesday within the city limits of Winchester. Prices ranged from $215,000 for a four-bedroom/two-bathroom duplex on East Monmouth Street to $1,985,000 for a six-bedroom/six-bathroom mansion on West Piccadilly Street.

Property developers have noticed the urgent need for housing in Winchester and have come forward with numerous development proposals, but the price of almost every new unit is based on current market rates which are too expensive for many people and families in the class. local worker. According to Realtor.com, the current average selling price for a single-family home in Winchester is $321,000. Zumper reports that the current average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $1,050.

As more homes become available over the next few years, Hoffman said rent and mortgage prices should remain stable or even decline.

Additionally, Winchester developer John Willingham is working on a project to convert the long-vacant ZeroPak apple processing and storage facility on North Cameron Street into an affordable housing complex that can accommodate up to 190 units, which would significantly add to the local housing supply and could have the more general effect of lowering rental prices for comparable units elsewhere in the city.

As for the 1,662 homes and apartments currently offered for construction in Winchester (this figure does not include the ZeroPak project because no permits have yet been sought from Rouss City Hall), Hoffman said it was unlikely that they are all built.

“A lot of times these things fail because of funding or whatever, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll get north of a thousand,” he said.

A thousand homes with an average occupancy of 2.5 people each would equate to 2,500 new residents in addition to the 28,078 people who already live here. A population increase of this magnitude over the next three or four years would have a noticeable impact on schooling and traffic flows, but Hoffman said Winchester could handle it.

If city officials determine a development will cause significant traffic problems, Hoffman said developers may be required to pay for road improvements such as turn lanes and median strips. Every major residential development in Winchester is required to submit a traffic impact analysis to Rouss Town Hall as part of the approval process.

As far as Winchester Public Schools are concerned, “we have been seeing a drop in enrollment for some time now, to the point where Superintendent [Jason Van Heukelum] has been very vocal about the need for more students,” Hoffman said. “We have the capacity in our schools right now. We actually need to do a little catch-up based on our growth patterns of the last 30 years.”

If Winchester gets to the point where there is too much housing, the city council has limited power to slow residential growth. Current regulations state that development can still take place if it conforms to a property’s zoning ordinances for size, location, density and use. The council cannot refuse any residential right proposal unless the developer requests a rezoning of the property, a planned unit development overlay (PUD) or a conditional use permit.

An example of this occurred late last year with a 28-acre parcel of land near the Shenandoah Valley Museum, where a private developer applied for a PUD to consolidate 74 age-restricted homes on part of the property. The council refused the PUD, but the developer could still come in as of right and build up to 79 single-family homes assuming adequate open space is maintained around each unit.

Other municipalities impose temporary moratoriums on residential development once certain thresholds are reached. For example, Hoffman said, Montgomery County, Maryland has regulations that automatically restrict development if schools in the county reach 110% capacity.

There are no such guarantees in Winchester, but Hoffman said the city is unlikely to become so inundated with housing that its infrastructure, emergency services and education services cannot keep pace. Indeed, an excessive number of dwellings would saturate the market to the point that developers would stop submitting applications for the construction of housing estates and apartment complexes because they would no longer be profitable.

“I can tell a developer until I’m blue in the face that Winchester is a great city and we’d like them to invest in it,” Hoffman said, “but if there’s no demand, they won’t take the risk of construction.”

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