by Steven Ginsberg, Washington Post

18 January 2001, p. B5

“Shortly before 3 a.m. yesterday, an hour or two before many Prince William residents awoke to begin their long commutes north, a divided Board of County Supervisors approved a $3 billion development that supporters say will create thousands of high-paying jobs and revitalize the county’s eastern edge.

“The 5 to 3 vote to approve rezoning for Southbridge at Cherry Hill followed hours of heated public testimony for and against the project. The vote would allow 2,500 new homes, more than 3 million square feet of commercial space and an 18-hole golf course — all arranged around a 1,700-acre, Reston-style town center on what is now a forested bluff overlooking the Potomac River.

“If the plans are completed over the next 20 years, Cherry Hill also will include hotels, a telecommuting center, a cultural arts center, a library, movie theaters and a commuter rail station — all told, a development twice as big as Reston Town Center is today.

“Environmentalists have decried the project as an assault on a pristine stretch of shoreline, and they have warned that developing its rugged terrain will rain silt into the fragile creeks that flank Cherry Hill. Yesterday, environmentalists pledged to continue to fight the project, or at least scale it back.

” ‘We could get back with the developer and persuade him to do something less intrusive,’ said Bob Moler, president of Protect PW and a leading critic of Southbridge.

“But county planners laud the project as the right kind of development in a part of Prince William that needs revitalization.

” ‘We see this as an opportunity to put eastern Prince William on the map, no question about it,’ said Carl Sell, president of the Prince William Parkway/95 Partnership, a public-private venture seeking to renew the corridor along Interstate 95 and Route 1. ‘You need a crown jewel. You need something to point to,’ and Cherry Hill is it.

“In approving Cherry Hill, officials also are steering development far away from western Prince William’s low-density ‘rural crescent,’ established two years ago to preserve open land.

“Many county politicians view the riverfront as a largely untapped resource and say that Cherry Hill, along with the smaller Belmont Bay community now under construction, will make eastern Prince William a more desirable area and a site for high-end jobs and housing.

“As it stands, gas stations, fast-food restaurants and highway hotels are about the only businesses in the area.

“This is not the first time county officials have tried to change the corridor’s landscape by developing Cherry Hill. In the late 1980s, a builder planned a larger-scale project than the one approved yesterday morning but abandoned it during a real estate market downturn. Then in 1993, Lego Co., the Danish toymaking giant, considered the site for an amusement park, commercial space and high-end homes but chose California instead.

” ‘I have watched many projects be proposed for this peninsula, and I have waited patiently for the proper project to come along,’ said Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), who has lived on Cherry Hill for more than 20 years and voted for the development. ‘I think this will be an opportunity for all of us to have a better quality of life.’

“The supervisors who voted against the project — Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large), Ruth T. Griggs (R-Occoquan) and Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) — said they were worried Cherry Hill won’t be built as planned and won’t realize the lofty vision of its backers.

” ‘It has the potential to be a very positive addition to our economic base if everything that is planned is actually built,’ Connaughton said, cautioning that the developer’s parent company has made statements that long-term construction projects are not its primary mission.

“Griggs echoed those concerns yesterday morning, mainly because plans call for bringing the lucrative commercial development on line late in the process.

“Officials from the developer, Legend Properties Inc., said yesterday that they are confident the project will generate economic development opportunities in the near term.”

Note:  A letter to the editor by Michael Ragland in the 28 January 2001 Washington Post (Prince William Extra) adds the following:

“Neabsco Supervisor John D. Jenkins, Woodbridge Supervisor Hilda M. Barg, Coles Supervisor Mary K. Hill, Brentsville Supervisor Loring B. ‘Ben’ Thompson, and Gainesville Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III voted to approve the rezoning of Cherry Hill. As a result, the rezoning is now legally effective. There have often been references made to the ‘gang of five’ outvoting Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, Dumfries Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan and Occoquan Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs on important county land-use decisions. This latest rezoning decision would seem to reconfirm that.

“Connaughton is to be congratulated for backing up his decision to vote against the rezoning of Cherry Hill by doing research and citing relevant statements from the ‘horse’s mouth.’ He cited that Legend Properties is carrying a $100 million debt. He also quoted a Securities and Exchange Commission report that found no assurances Legend will be able to obtain the necessary financing to complete Southbridge and other projects it is developing throughout the United States.

“The jewel, however, is a quote by Aker RGI [Legend’s parent company] Chief Executive Kjell Inge Rokke in an article. Mr. Rokke states, ‘The company’s ability to fully implement its business plan [Southbridge] is dependent on, among other things, securing long-term and short-term financing related to the developments on acceptable terms. There can be no assurances that the company will be able to obtain the necessary financing on acceptable terms, if at all.’ ” …