An audit of housing developments approved by Purcellville since 2000 confirms that several developers devoted fewer acres to open space than are required by town ordinances.
The Purcellville Town Council voted unanimously last month to hire an independent land-use company to study the amount of open space in five developments, after the town's planning commissioner raised concerns that some subdivisions were counting private lawns, parking lots and roads to fulfill a requirement that a certain percentage of each project remain open space.
According to the report, which was presented to the council last week, only one of the approved projects, the Hirst Farm property, met the open space requirements.
Phoebe Kilby, president of Sympoetica, the company that conducted the audit, wrote that the town's ordinances are ambiguous and that under some interpretations, private lawns and roads could in fact be counted. She calculated open space for each development under both a looser definition of the requirements, which would allow for private property, and a stricter interpretation, which would not.
Under the looser definition, Kilby found that the Village Case development also met the requirements. If private open space were excluded, it did not.
Three other approved projects -- the Courts of St. Francis, an addition to that project and Cortland Square -- fell short of the requirements, even if private space was counted.
Council member Robert W. Lazaro Jr. argued that the results indicate the projects should never have been approved without adjustment by previous town councils, and he called for a reexamination of the approval process.
"What this means is that there was a total breakdown in our internal process in terms of reviewing these applications," he said. "There's no way a sidewalk or street should be approved as open space. . . . Intuitively, it just doesn't pass the smell test that someone's back yard would be open space. I'm not going to jump the fence and use it."
Lazaro also called for rewriting the zoning ordinances to more clearly prohibit such definitions in the future.
Eric E. Zicht, a consultant who has worked on all the projects except the Hirst Farm property, said each application clearly spelled out how the developers planned to account for open space.
Zicht, who was not working on the projects when they were being approved, suggested that previous councils might have accepted the looser definition of open space or may have even approved projects based on other merits, while knowing that they did not meet the written requirements.
"It's pretty hard to determine whether they did in fact make a mistake, or if they approved them knowingly. All that open space is shown. The tables are shown, and it specifically includes areas that [the study] says are doubtful," he said. "There's all sorts of stuff in local rules that they don't enforce. And there are things that are not written down that they do require."