by Timothy Dwyer, The Washington Post

6 December 2006, page B1

“Prince William County supervisors, in an effort to spur Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly to take action to ease gridlock, unanimously approved a radical plan yesterday that halts construction of residential development for a year in the state’s second-largest county.

“The board, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, voted for the proposal from Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) to freeze any approval of rezoning requests for new houses in the coming year. More than 15 people spoke against the proposal, and one person spoke in favor of it.

” ‘This vote signifies that Prince William County, to the maximum extent possible under Virginia law, will manage the pace of growth in order to ensure that the demands of growth do not outpace the capacity to provide the necessary services and infrastructure,’ Covington said. All board members will be up for reelection next year.

“It was unclear last night whether there would be a legal challenge to the freeze. Covington said that the board can take up to 12 months to approve new housing that requires its permission to be rezoned. The new measure states that the supervisors will take the full 12 months before considering any new rezoning plans.

“Opposition came from the building industry, the business community, residents and politicians. Some warned that the freeze would hurt the county’s economy; others opposed it because they said it would not slow growth enough.

” ‘I think I am going to be forced to support the legislation,’ Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said before the vote. After the vote, she said:  ‘It doesn’t do anything. This is a nothing.’

“The freeze on approving residential development will take effect Jan. 1 and expire Dec. 31. Covington called his plan ‘proactive’ and said that he hoped it would motivate the governor and the legislature to work to relieve the chokehold that traffic congestion has on Northern Virginia residents. ‘We just don’t get our fair share from Richmond,’ he said.

“County planners said last week that it was not clear how many residential units would actually be put on hold. Steve Griffin, director of the county’s planning board, said that 26,400 housing units have been approved but not built. He said some of the approvals date back to the 1950s and 1960s.

“When the supervisors opened their meeting to the public for comments, a long line quickly formed, snaking its way from the front to the rear of the chamber.

“Donna Snellings, chairwoman of the board of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce, warned the supervisors that the proposal would tarnish the reputation of the county in the business community.

” ‘We have heard concern expressed from those who work to attract new business to Prince William that the moratorium is a sudden departure from the well-thought-out planning with public input and good management for which Prince William is known,’ Snellings said.

“Covington proposed the freeze last month at the first meeting presided over by the board’s new chairman, Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan), who won a special election last month after campaigning on a platform to slow growth in the county. Stewart will serve as chairman for a year and will have to run again next fall to keep his job.

” ‘This has been a big issue for me,’ Stewart said before the vote. ‘This is not a cure-all, and this is not a long-term solution.’

“Victor D. Bras, chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, called the board’s action ’empty grandstanding’ and charged that it was motivated more by next year’s election than by a desire to spark action on transportation issues.

” ‘Covington and his colleagues should not hide behind the fig leaf of a resolution that stacks up rezoning applications like cordwood until after next year’s election,’ Bras said.

“The two Democrats on the board, Barg and Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), voted for the freeze.

“Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said the proposal didn’t go far enough. ‘It doesn’t do exactly what I wanted it to do,’ Nohe said. ‘But the way it was originally written was not going to be legally enforceable. While it doesn’t do everything I hope it would do in slowing down growth, it does do something. It’s a start.’

“Tammy Cesario of Gainesville, who said she owned a small construction business, warned the board that its action would simply send developers to surrounding counties and hurt small businesses such as hers.

” ‘By implementing this, you will be shutting Prince William County down,’ she told the board before the vote. ‘Have you considered all the small businesses you will be putting out of business? This will be your legacy. You will be known as the board that, with a flick of a pen, killed the county.’ “