The Occoquan Town Council will consider a scaled-down version of the proposed “Mill at Occoquan” development this month that Mayor Earnie Porta says should be “a lot more palatable” to critics who objected to the project’s original size and height.
The Mill at Occoquan is a “mixed use” project, meaning it contains both residential and commercial uses. It would transform about 1 acre of waterfront property along the Occoquan River into a mix of condominiums, restaurant and retail space. The area is now home to an older retail building and dry docks.
The project’s developer, Kevin Sills, of Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Investments, had proposed a seven-story building with 80 condominiums and a 10,000 square foot restaurant on the top floor that would have included a public observation deck. The current design is the project's third revision. An initial design, proposed in 2019, contained 88 condominiums.
The project sparked objections, however, over its proposed height – 79 feet – and its lack of setback from the town’s sidewalks.
As revised, the building would hold only 52 condominiums on six stories instead of seven. The change would reduce the overall height to 55 feet with the first two levels, which would be devoted to parking, built mostly underground.
The revised design would still have a restaurant and some retail space, but all of that would be on the ground floor. The smaller building would also allow for the normal amount of setback from the sidewalk, Porta said.
The project would still include a 350-foot boardwalk along the back of the building that would be open to the public, Porta said.
The changes, Porta said, “are a big plus for us.”
“At this point, candidly, it’s really hard for people to argue about the height of this building now that it’s about the same as buildings across the street,” Porta said.
The changes, however, mean Sills has put his plan to buy the nearby Rockledge Mansion on hold. Sills had planned to buy the 263-year-old mansion, as well as an adjacent property on Ellicott Street, to build a 156-space parking garage. But now that the top floor of the building has been eliminated from the plan – along with a proposed restaurant and observation deck – there is less need for extra parking. Also, the cost of building the garage proved to be cost-prohibitive because of the rock beneath the property, Sills said Thursday.
Removing the rock would have required more than a month’s worth of drilling, and the overall cost of purchasing the properties was estimated to be too high relative to the revenue the parking garage would generate, especially without the larger restaurant on the top floor, Sills said.
All of those changes were prompted by concerns about the height of the original design, which would have been about double the town’s current limit of 35 feet.
“We went back to the drawing board because everyone was complaining about the height,” Sills said.
Sills maintains that the height of the previously planned structure, as determined by the town’s formula, was somewhat misleading in that it is computed by taking an average of the heights from all four corners of the building, including the back, which faces the water. Since the property drops off along the waterfront, the height is greater from the back of the building than the front, and that difference pushed the average height to 79 feet.
Regarding Rockledge Mansion, Sills said he had intended to purchase the property mostly because he needed a portion of it for the parking garage. He said he had hoped to shore up home the home itself, which he said “needs a lot of work,” and then turn it over to the Town of Occoquan. Sills said he hasn’t completely abandoned that idea but would like to have the "Mill at Occoquan" approved first.
“We have another idea, and again it’s just using the land, it’s not using Rockledge [Mansion] … We would go ahead and [shore it up], but I’ve got to get one thing at a time,” he added.
Rockledge Mansion is now back on the market for $1.5 million, according to a real estate listing.
The Occoquan Town Council will hold a public hearing on the revised Mill at Occoquan at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday, June 15.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the town hall at 314 Mill St. Because of social distancing, seating at the town hall is limited. The town will also provide access to the meeting via Zoom, Porta said.
The town council will not likely take a final vote on the project at the June 15 meeting, Porta said.
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