by PWCBG’s Ralph Stephenson

12-13 October 2014

THANK YOU — Thanks to all of you for your support as we try to ensure better land use policies in this county that don’t overcrowd our roads and schools, increase our taxes, decrease property values, and unnecessarily reduce open/green space.  Thank you for your support in working to ensure that our county leaders represent ordinary citizens, and not just fat cat residential developers and their allies who pay big money to keep some county supervisors under their influence.  Particular thanks to those of you who contacted the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) and/or spoke at the 7 October hearing on Stone Haven, and who will help Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG) as we continue our recent efforts to make common cause on all the above issues with other districts and supervisors outside Brentsville (Bristow area), Gainesville, and Coles District where most of you live.  (I’ve included info on atmospherics from the 7 October hearing and next steps below.  For more info on Stone Haven, see:  land-use-proposals–stonehaven)

COMMON CAUSE WITH OTHERS IN COUNTY — Just like our districts, Woodbridge District is trying to avoid the same sort of bad land development policies that have led to the problems noted above and in earlier e-mails.  There is an opportunity for us  to make common cause with Woodbridge and other districts – gaining support from them in our balanced growth efforts as we support them in theirs.  In that light, I’m passing on to you a summary of e-mails that Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi is sending to his constituents to get them to contact the BOCS to oppose proffer amendments to Rivergate, a high-density development in Woodbridge that will have the same negative effects on the local area and entire county that Stone Haven, PW Station, and other upcoming residential developments will have on us.  I encourage you to take a few moments now to contact the BOCS (cc addressees above)  and tell them that you oppose unneeded big residential developments throughout the county – including Rivergate – for the same reasons that you oppose Stone Haven. If you can speak 14 Oct, Tuesday at 7:30 pm at the BOCS hearing against Rivergate, I would encourage you to do that as well.  And remember that the entire county budget and school situation is affected by poor land use choices by the BOCS in any district.  Here’s Supervisor Principi’s message to Woodbridge constituents that his office has asked PWCBG to pass on to you:

RIVERGATE — I need your help in protecting the quality of our children’s education and our quality of life as it relates to traffic congestion. Next Tuesday 14 Oct, there will be a public hearing and vote on proffer amendments to the Rivergate Apartment development that will pave the way for overcrowded classrooms for Belmont Elementary, Lynn Middle, and Freedom High schools.

As we all know, classroom sizes continue to be an issue in Prince William County.   Elementary classes in Prince William have climbed to an average of 23 students and secondary school classes topped 30, making them the largest in Virginia and in the Washington region. This overcrowding cripples our ability to provide our children with the world class education they not only deserve but will need to compete in the workforce of tomorrow. Studies have shown that smaller class sizes reduce the achievement gap, especially with low-income and minority students.

The Rivergate Apartment development will also pave the way for increased traffic congestion on Interstate 95, Route 1 and our neighborhood roads.
As we all know, traffic congestion continues to be an issue in Prince William County.   According to a 2013 report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia have the worst commute in the country. Commuters in the nation’s capital needed almost three hours for a trip that should take 30 minutes without traffic, according to the report.

The developers of Rivergate are not willing to proffer what is needed to mitigate the negative impacts on our school and transportation system. The amount proffered by the developer to the school system is based on proffer guidelines written a decade ago. It means nearly $5.7 million less for the public school system than we would require for a similar development project proposed under current guidelines. I tried to encourage them to do more to mitigate the impact on area schools, but they refused. Why should taxpayers subsidize developers?

If you do not speak out against the Rivergate apartments next Tuesday, October 14 at 7:30 pm., the Board of County Supervisors will approve this development causing our local schools to exceed capacity and reduce the quality of education our children will receive. To learn more, call me at 703-792-4646 or visit

GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE — We get the kind of government we as a people have worked for and earned.  When we are informed and hold our government accountable and responsible, our government becomes more responsive and representative.  Otherwise, the opposite is true: it becomes captive to narrow vested interests.  The price of liberty and good government is eternal vigilance.

WHAT’S NEXT – As most of you undoubtedly already know, on 7 October the BOCS decided by a 7-0 vote to defer its deciding vote on Stone Haven until Brentsville District has a seated representative on the BOCS, sometime in January.  This outcome was a direct result of the citizen outcry against Stone Haven and the possibility that it would be decided by the BOCS without Brenstville representation.

So mark your calendars for two big dates upcoming.  First is the 23 December 2014 special election for a new Brentsville District supervisor.  Apply now to vote absentee if that’s what it takes to make sure your voice is heard.  Here are instructions:

Here is more information on the two candidates, Jeanine Lawson-R and Scott Jacobs-I — their views, in their own words, on balanced growth: LawsonStatement2PWCBG and JacobsStatement2PWCBG. Here’s more on their positions on Stone Haven: .

Second is the January 2015 BOCS final/deciding vote on Stone Haven (currently 1,650 houses.)  Date TBD.  We’ll let you know when we know more.  Third, watch for upcoming votes in a few months on Prince William Station (currently 2-2,500 houses next to Stone Haven) and Pioneer Assemblage (currently looks like ~800 houses on 200 acres next to New Braemar.)  Dates TBD.

ATMOSPHERICS – At the 7 October hearing, the arguments in favor of Stone Haven seemed to  fall roughly into three groups.  The first group will personally benefit financially from Stone Haven or large residential developments like it and is thus in favor of virtually all such developments.  The second group seems to be interested in land gifts from the developer for one specific thing only and seems unable to delink that from more residential development.  The third group is convinced that they must accept thousands of homes next door or they’ll get something far worse.

The problem with the first group is that they’re seeking an entitlement from the government (tax-subsidized development) that is not only unnecessary (with no shortage of housing in PW County and 30,000 already-approved but not yet built houses in the pipeline), but also harmful to taxpayers who get overcrowded schools and roads, lower property values, and less open/green space in return.  Subsidies from taxpayers, if you believe that sort of thing is sometimes necessary, should at the very least give taxpayers some sort of value in return, don’t you think?

For the county to just buy empty land for the second group when necessary (for example, for ball fields and schools) would be far cheaper in the long run than getting the empty land from residential developers in exchange for thousands of tax-negative houses costing the county millions of dollars per year.

School Board Chairman Milt Johns is concerned that if Stone Haven isn’t approved now, he won’t have an already-overbooked new high school in time.  But since Stone Haven alone, by his estimate at the 7 Oct hearing, will produce 1,000 students, and the soon-to-follow PW Station is ~50 percent larger, won’t we need at least another high school anyway – just for Stone Haven and PW Station alone – so we’ll be even more overbooked by the time those two developments are built.  It seems that Chairman Johns is just buying into the vicious-cycle that currently exists, and asking that we continue to buy into it, too, with no end in sight, apparently in return for as-yet-unclear quick-fix gains.  In fairness to Chairman Johns, who has also recently noted, in his words “the impact of overdevelopment and uncontrolled growth on our classrooms,” the School Board has been dealt a pretty weak hand by the BOCS, which is the source of the “overdevelopment and uncontrolled growth” to which Johns refers.

The third group, apparently unaware of zoning and other realities, as well as negative impacts (schools, traffic, property values, etc), is apparently allowing itself to be misled by developer scare tactics.  The Stone Haven land is currently zoned agricultural and the county comprehensive plan calls for it to be suburban residential low (SRL), meaning 1-4 houses per acre.  (Note that zoning has the force of law, while comp plans are recent statements of long-term BOCS policy and intent, and in the case of the land around Stone Haven, the zoning and comp plan are at variance.)  The only way high-density housing such as Stone Haven can ever exist there is for both the current zoning and comp plan to be amended.  Why is either outcome inevitable, especially as many of us are fighting these outcomes, and so far winning, and the future political composition of the BOCS looks to be far less welcoming of such land use? Furthermore, Stone Haven already includes 1 million sq ft of commercial.

COMMERCIAL — Next to Stone Haven (but not part of the Stone Haven development) much of the land is designated “flexible employment center” (FEC) per the comp plan, which allows not heavy manufacturing or dirty industries, but instead office buildings, light manufacturing, and start-up businesses, all of which would predominantly produce high-paying jobs and be tax positive.  The county should be pressured to keep this land zoned agricultural OR follow the comp plan and at some point in the future, when it decides to take commercial development seriously, allow commercial development that is properly bermed and tree-screened.  At least such commercial development wouldn’t produce the negative effect on schools that Stone Haven, PW Station, and Pioneer Assemblage would.  And if those three residential developments were approved, we’d now be up to at least 4,450-4,950 new houses multiplied by 3 people and about 2 cars per house, most of which would probably join the current west-to-east morning and east-to-west evening commutes. On the other hand, if planned reasonably well, commercial development of the area would be far more likely to spread out and diffuse traffic flows and make more efficient use of area primary and secondary roads than automatically adding 5-10,000 more cars to our morning and evening commutes to/from Fairfax and DC.

TAX-NEGATIVE CHALLENGE – Rather than unquestioningly parroting the pro-developer party line, those such as Bristow Beat who express skepticism that big residential developments in PW County are tax negative should do their own analysis of county residential tax revenues and costs, document how they arrived at their results as PWCBG has done, and see if they can somehow honestly come to a different conclusion than we have.  For more info, see:  Speech delivered to Prince William Committee of 100 Forum

I am also a bit dismayed that in the Bristow Beat 8 Oct article in question, by my count only 8 paragraphs discuss balanced growth and/or anti-Stone Haven views, while 22 are devoted to pro-Stone Haven views and/or seem to support relatively unrestricted residential growth.  So much for balanced, evenhanded journalism.  I wonder if this one-sidedness has anything to do with a large percentage of advertising revenues coming from residential developers.   Go to the following link and do your own count:   |   pdf version

Ralph Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG)

Stone Haven rezoning, comp plan amendment from BOCS agenda (see p. 7)