Business owners along Purcellville's Main Street say they fear a proposed zoning ordinance to limit the by-right size of retail stores to 10,000 square feet could destroy their enterprises and lower their property values.

"The Main Street of Purcellville is what has developed the character of Purcellville for 50, 60, 70 years," said Bob Schonder, who owns 31/2 acres on the street and has an auto repair business on the property. "It's worked all this time. Rather than take away these by-rights, we ought to let the free enterprise system work."

Schonder was among several residents who attended a joint meeting of the Purcellville Town Council and the Planning Commission on Thursday to voice concern about the ordinance proposed by Town Council member Robert W. Lazaro Jr.

Limiting the size of retail stores on Main Street between Route 287 and 16th Street would make it difficult for large chains such as Costco and Price Club, known as "big-box stores," to move into town. The area involved is mostly at the eastern and western entrances to the town.

In addition to limits on store size, the ordinance would require restaurants larger than 2,500 square feet to apply for a special use permit. Several opponents of the change pointed out that Magnolia's, a popular new upscale restaurant in Purcellville, is about three times that size.

"We could lose a potentially very interesting, and good, change in Purcellville," said Bob Mottice, a Planning Commission member.

Several who attended complained that they had been unaware until recently that the town was contemplating the changes.

Supporters said the proposed ordinance was not intended to hurt existing businesses but to prevent large stores from coming to town.

"No one is going to be forced out of business," said Walter Voskian, Planning Commission chairman. He said that the proposed ordinance had been in the works for years.

Lazaro said Main Street could still be home to doctors' and dentists' offices, lawyers, veterinarians and other small businesses.

"One only has to look at Leesburg to look at the damage" of not barring large stores such as Wal-Mart, Lazaro said. After the meeting Lazaro said the zoning ordinance considered by the council might include a less stringent constraint on restaurant space.

The revised ordinance would also invoke a slew of new restrictions on lighting, landscaping and signs. For example, lights on businesses would need to be of a lower intensity so as not to glare on adjoining properties; preservation of trees and the planting of new ones would be required; and the maximum height of freestanding signs would be reduced from 19 feet to 12 feet.

Mark Nelis, a Purcellville lawyer, said the town's economy, long based on agriculture and truck servicing, could be jeopardized by lowering property values and chasing away potential new owners and investors.

"The majority of existing businesses will become non-permitted uses," Nelis told the Purcellville officials. "This legislation is a piecemeal downzoning of the most lucrative parcels in town."

If the Planning Commission approves the ordinance at its next meeting Aug. 19, the Town Council could vote on it as early as Sept. 14.