A major development proposed along the Occoquan River took a step closer to reality Tuesday, with the Occoquan Planning Commission voting unanimously to allow zoning exceptions for building height, residential use in a commercial zone, and a setback from the property boundary.
The Mill at Occoquan would be seven stories, with retail shops and a restaurant on the ground floor, two stories of below-ground parking for residents and shops, and 80 multifamily units in the upper floors, as proposed by Kevin Sills, the owner and applicant.
Residents filled the Occoquan town hall for the Tuesday meeting, with about two dozen chairs spaced at 6 feet apart for safety, and numerous other residents attending and testifying via remote video.
During the hearing, residents’ comments were evenly mixed, in favor and in opposition to the project. Those speaking in favor of the development said it would benefit the town and that the existing abandoned boatyard on the lot has been an eyesore for years.
Dick Lynn said he liked “the thought of mixed use, and the town certainly needs a facelift and new ideas.” He did express skepticism whether the walkway, which would span the entire length of the river side of the building, could be built affordably, because he said the river bottom is rock in that area.
However, Karla Justice said the project is out of proportion to the small-town appeal of Occoquan. “I think the building they’re proposing is going to tower over everything in town. This is the beginning of the end of our small town.”
The planning commission sought clarification on several items and amended the wording of several conditions in the plan before recommending that the zoning exceptions be accepted and sent to the town council. The motion to recommend the preliminary site plan was unanimous.
Eliot Perkins, planning commission chairman, noted that since the first rendering was presented to the commission – one he called “underwhelming” – the developer has revised his plans 11 times to address concerns.
“There have been up to a dozen improvements made, and it’s a completely different-looking building,” Perkins said. “Mr. Sills has shown, over time, a project worthy of Occoquan.”
The Occoquan town council must still approve the plan, along with various regulatory agencies, and Sills estimated construction would take about two years once all the approvals are in place.