JEFFERSONTON—Pre-construction meetings are slated to begin this month between the county and national builder Lennar Homes to potentially launch the start of homebuilding in the long-imagined, 16-year-old Clevenger’s Village plan in northern Culpeper.
Much remains to be seen with the proposed 774-house “planned unit development” on 992 forested acres at the corner of State Route 229 and U.S. 211, seven miles west of Warrenton.
Culpeper County Administrator John Egertson gave an update June 15 to the Jefferson Ruritan Club on the project, formerly known as Clevenger’s Corner. Nearly two dozen area residents attended the program in person in the community gym at Jeffersonton Baptist Church.
Neighbors are keeping a close watch on Clevenger’s, concerned about increased traffic and safety and negative financial impact to the county, all the while wishing for a grocery store in their neighborhood.
Commercial question: Saadeh Partners
The neighborhood commercial component of the project—140,000-square-feet worth—has long been promised by various developers dating back to 2005. That’s when the elected board of supervisors approved a controversial rezoning of rural agricultural land for the large development. Another 210,000 square feet of “village employment center” was also pitched.
Plans for the project endured the housing crash, changed hands and now are in the hands of a fourth investor, Emad Saadeh with Woodbridge-based Saadeh Partners LLC.
The company website describes the firm as a family business building residential and commercial in Culpeper, Fairfax and Prince William. The site featured several of its northern Virginia commercial projects.
The Star-Exponent contacted the company phone number on Friday and left a message for Mr. Saadeh inquiring about any confirmed commercial tenants at Clevenger’s Village. An email message was also left at the company’s web site; a response was not immediately received.
Egertson said on Friday no commercial site plans had been submitted to the county and that he had not yet heard of any prospective tenants.
“I do not think that they are quite that far along yet,” he said.
Homes on the horizon
What is approved is Lennar Homes’ preliminary plan for 115 homes on 83 acres on the northern end of the development, with access from Route 229’s northernmost entrance. The company recently put a new sign on the site.
Tim Bates, Lennar Division President for Virginia and Washington, D.C., said in an email Friday to the Star-Exponent the company expects to begin land development this summer at Clevenger’s Village and model home construction at the end of 2021.
“Lennar will be offering a mix of single-family homes consisting of village, manor, and estate homes on golf course homesites, along with three-level townhomes with garages,” he said.
People interested in receiving updates on the community can call 540/613-5610.
The project will include the addition of left and right turn lanes on Route 229. First phase approval actually includes 125 homes, which Egerton noted as a high number for Culpeper.
In all of 2020 around the county, excluding town, there were 211 permits issued for single family homes in a strong growth market, he said.
Culpeper is not yet listed among Lennar housing developments, but in Fredericksburg, an active adult community of the company’s is sold out. Another 55-and-older housing development in Williamsburg is selling homes in the $300,000s up to high end of $500,000s.
As for Clevenger’s commercial, the county board approved Saadeh’s amended proffers in November of 2019, including a nearly $3 million increase in payments to the county for a total of $8.54 million at build out.
Saadeh told the board then, 20 months ago, he hoped to start building in 2021 and continue through 2029. The offering included workforce housing units, land for schools, and more than 700 acres in open space conservation, including along the Rappahannock River.
And then COVID hit, stalling everything.
Neighbors weigh in: traffic concerns
Neighbors are still waiting to see what is going to happen. Now, the housing market is sizzling as the commercial economy crawls back in the waning days of a pandemic.
Five Jeffersonton area residents returned to the church hall June 29 for an interview with the Star-Exponent to share their thoughts on the latest iteration of Clevenger’s Village.
The church is located just a few miles away from the planned development, along Springs Road. It is one of several area back roads off of Route 229 neighbors say are treacherous to navigate along the 55-mph two-lane highway.
Clevenger’s Village, when built, will be situated across the road from the 343-home existing South Wales housing development.
“(Route) 229 is a terrifying road to me,” said longtime Jeffersonton resident and community advocate Bob Burnett.
When he drives to the town of Culpeper, 13 miles south, he uses the back roads so as to avoid the hills, poor sight distances and blinding sunshine Burnett said makes Route 229, Rixeyville Road, a death trap.
“What I’m looking at is a safety point of view for the people who are here,” he said. “Safety and consideration of the community is where it starts.”
Jefferson Ruritan Club president Paul Oesterreicher said his wife is still recovering from injuries she sustained in an accident on Route 229 a few years back.
Neighbors are also concerned the road will not be able to handle all the traffic coming into the two large housing developments on either side of the road and that traffic will back up and onto 211, with cars heading home from the north.
A Jeffersonton resident since 1997, Ann O’Connor’s biggest concern is the traffic it will add to Route 229.
“Coming home from work 5 or 5:30 that’s a crazy road to be turning on,” she said.
Listening to Egertson’s recent presentation, O’Connor said it didn’t sound like much had changed over the years.
“The only thing that seemed to me was the change in ownership, they made it sound like an improvement,” she said. “Something we could really use around here is a restaurant.”
O’Connor, retired in April from the health department, still is doubtful it will happen.
“Will demand meet the price? It always seems to ramp up when the economy’s ramped up and I don’t think it’s going to stay,” she said.
Another bedroom community?
Oesterreicher and other neighbors suspected young professionals working in Northern Virginia without any kids would be the ones to primarily buy homes in Clevenger’s Village.
He is always looking for new Ruritan Club members, but doubted any of the new residents would join the community service organization.
“I mean what do they care about Jeffersonton?” Oesterreicher said.
Others in the group suspected the new residents would do most of their shopping and dining in Northern Virginia.
Currently, the closest grocery store to Jeffersonton is Food Lion in Warrenton, with its various other nearby stores. Fauquier County is bracing for traffic impacts of that geographic situation once Clevenger’s gets built.
South Wales resident Buddy Williams likes the sound of having a restaurant or grocery store at Clevenger’s. The commercial component is slated for construction fronting on U.S. Route 211. Williams said the way he understood it, the shops were supposed to come first.
“Saadeh, his main forte is commercial,” he said. “When he presented to the HOA in South Wales over a year ago he indicated the commercial was going to start this past spring and that didn’t happen.”
Another longtime active Jeffersonton resident David Rowe said building the commercial first at Clevenger’s was always the focus in his involvement with the Concerned Culpeper Citizens group.
“The housing itself was really not to going to bring anything to the county,” he said. “With Warrenton only eight minutes away, I don’t think people would really be shopping in (the town of) Culpeper. And the sort of people buying that class of home would probably be working in northern Virginia.”
The county would gain water and sewer tap fees, utility fees and the proffers as building progressed, Rowe said. He said he learned nothing new from Egertson’s presentation.
“The only real improvement was the insistence that the commercial was developed … made financial sense to the county,” Rowe said.
The fact that it doesn’t appear to be happening like that is like déjà vu, he added.
“Who is going to force the owner of commercial to actually build and rent it out?” Rowe said. “I don’t think you could convince Aldi to come.”
He went on to say Clevenger’s Village would be a subset of Culpeper, not part of the county.
“They never turn right out of South Wales,” Rowe said. Having children going to school in town is what brings people to town, he said.
Rowe said he remains doubtful Clevenger’s Village will ever materialize.
“I’ll believe it when I see (Stevensburg Supervisor) Bill Chase pushing a shovel into the ground,” he said.
Single family homes ‘With Everything’s’
In his recent presentation, Egertson addressed the commercial component—noncommittally.
“Once houses are built, Clevenger’s will most likely see an interest in some limited commercial development,” his presentation stated. “Phase 1 plans do grade and bring utilities to an area for commercial development. However, no site plans for commercial development have been submitted.”
Phrases like “most likely” and “limited” are “weasel words,” Burnett said, and raise red flags.
“The ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ to me it’s extremely disturbing,” he said. “We’ve seen it happen before.”
Burnett referenced the “peculiar sign” recently put up by Lennar Homes fronting on Route 211 at the Clevenger’s site, advertising the development coming in the fall of 2021: “Single Family Homes and Town Homes With Everything’s Included.”
Burnett commented, “If it’s being built as a planned unit development it ought to be all things for all people … When is the golden shovel going to be planted in the ground? I would really like to know that.”