A parking lot 20 years in the making kicked off a busy night of work at the Tuesday night meeting of the Berryville Planning Commission. The lot in question is a proposed expansion of the parking behind the John H Enders Fire and Rescue Company on South Buckmarsh in downtown Berryville. The fire company is seeking permission to create the parking lot on the grounds of Johnson Williams Middle School by way of a lease agreement with the CCPS. The lot would add an additional 59 parking spaces to the existing 19, providing a total of 78 parking spaces for fire company use during events. President of John H. Enders Fire and Rescue, Chris Shipe said, “The proposed parking lot expansion has been in the planning stages for over 20 years. In fact a site plan was previously approved by the town in 1980s. Unfortunately, the fire department did not have the funds to pursue the project at that time and the project was put on hold until recently when our budget was in better shape.”
With funding in place. the plans have been working their way through the system. However, in the interim, changes to federal regulations particularly dealing with storm water runoff have complicated the new effort to build the lot. “As a result of new federal regulations the project has increased greatly in complexity,” said Shipe. Those complexities were the center of discussion for the planning commission Tuesday night.
Before the public hearing for the project, John Lewis of Painter-Lewis, PLC, the engineer for the project retained by Enders, spoke before the board. He addressed several issues from previous meetings as well as concerns that had been submitted from the town and residents who may be impacted by the lot. Areas of concern centered around storm water runoff and light pollution.
The proposed lot is located at the lowest point of the Johnson Williams site and is situated next to the floodplain of the Town Run which trickles through the heart of Berryville. This has led to concerns over runoff for downstream residents. Those concerns have resulted in a design of a bio-filter for the site. Mr Lewis explained that the filter is similar in appearance to a small storm water retention pond but does not serve the same purpose. When the bio-filter is constructed it is filled with engineered soils so that the overall function allows for the run-off to percolate through the filter, effectively moving the runoff downstream instead of retaining it. Mr. Lewis indicated that an alternate plan of using semi permeable pavement was not a viable solution. In order for the semi-permeable pavement to function properly as a means of storm water control the ground under the lot needs to perk and the land in question does not perk.
Also at issue was the lighting impact of the project. While the plan calls for the addition of three lights for the lot, the major concern of residents was the impact that the lot would cause by destroying existing screening from downtown lights. Two spruce trees will need to be removed in order for the lot to be constructed and these were the main source of screening concerns. Mr Lewis said there was no way around removing the trees but that he thought the effect of the tree removal would be minimal.
Jill Butler, a resident of Swan Street and the only speaker at the public hearing, went through a list of concerns that focused on the impact the lot would have on residents. “I have no objection to bingo or the planned parking, we all need money in these hard times. But I do object to this parking lot for the following reasons.” Ms. Butler went on to outline concerns over downstream runoff, lighting issues, screening concerns, and hours of operation. She also said the removal of the trees will destroy the screening from lights on other downtown properties and suggested the board require the applicant to install a landscape buffer.
Board members discussed options based on Ms. Butler’s comments and had several questions for Enders’ representatives. Board members asked questions about hours of operation and frequency of facility use. Chris Shipe responded that there are only four annual fire company events and other organizations use the facility for civic events and wedding receptions and said that typical use does not extend past 11:00pm. He also estimated the frequency of use to be about once every month, on average.
Other issues about lighting and line of site screening lead to Ms. Butler’s request about requiring the applicant to provide and maintain a landscape buffer. Board member, Robert Ferrebee said, “I’m a little torn about making this a requirement for approval because the light that she spoke about, has nothing to do with what they (Enders) are doing in the project. It’s the Red Apple Deli and tomorrow the school could decide to cut down those two trees without this project going forward and that light would still be there.” He added that the lighting that is to be used on the actual parking lot is already specified to be downcast lighting and should have minimal impact to the neighborhood.
Other members suggested limiting hours of operation. However this idea was not acceptable to the board as a condition because it would need to be applied to other businesses in the vicinity as well.
In the end, the only condition attached to the motion to approve the recommendation to the Town Council was that a signed maintenance agreement be submitted for the bio-filter area of the project.
Robert Ferrebee made the motion to approve the special use permit with a signed maintenance agreement condition and John Lincoln seconded the motion. The motion was approved unanimously by voting board members. Gwen Malone and Kim Kemp abstained from the vote because they are school employees.
The recommendation will now go to the Town Council for final consideration.