Citizens for Balanced Growth

Year: 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

County summary of intent of Centers of Community concept

County summary of intent of Centers of Community concept (previously on county website, but county has since removed links)

Centers of Community should be neighborhood centers for residents to live, shop, dine, recreate, and congregate. Centers of Community are to be overlay designations on the Long Range Land Use Map, proposed with the 2008 Land Use and Housing Update. The concept was developed by the Land Use Advisory Committee, and its purpose is to allow a mechanism by which Smart Growth can be implemented in select areas of the County.
Centers of Community, as shown on the Long Range Land Use Plan Map, should be located at or near the intersections of principal arterials and/or major collector roads, transit hubs, and commuter lots, and should generally encompass land within 1/2 mile of the center. Characteristics of Centers of Community should include internal pedestrian walkability, local serving retail and office uses, and a range of housing types and densities. See maps below for proposed locations of Centers of Community:


Aerial Map

Long Range Land Use Map

Zoning Map

Bristow/Broad Run

Bull Run

Chinn Park

Dale City


Forest Park

Hunter’s Wood

Aerial Map

Lake Manassas



Piedmont Station


Portsmouth Station

Prince William Commons


Signal Hill

Somerset Crossing

Aerial Map

Staples Mill 

Aerial Map

University Village



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E-mail exchanges between Ralph Stephenson, BOCS, and Stewart’s Chief of Staff Laurie Cronin

14-20 December 2008

(E-mails read from top to bottom in reverse chronological order)

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: BOB, FYI — Re: We Strongly Oppose the CoC Proposal
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2008 22:02:04 -0500
From: Ralph Stephenson <>
To: Pugh, Bob <>

Stewart, Corey A. wrote:

Mr. Stephenson,


Thank you for your e-mail I wanted to send you an article that recaps what Chairman Stewart’s Planning Commissioner, Gary Friedman has implemented, Chairman Stewart is supportive of the changes.


Prince William land use changes in the works

By Cheryl Chumley


Published: December 10, 2008


Planning Commission members are drafting what one member characterizes as the most significant land use proposal in Prince William in years.


Under this latest Comprehensive Plan recommendation, supervisors would name certain areas of the county Urban Mixed Use or Village Mixed Use zones with the emphasis on rehabilitation and commercial development.


The proposal brought forth at the Planning Commission last week specifies two such areas: Yorkshire, located between Manassas Park and Fairfax County along the Va. 28 path, and the entire U.S. 1 corridor, from Belmont Bay to Quantico. Supervisors would still hold final authority on which sites are zoned UMU and VMU.


But for builders who meet certain criteria, these Comp Plan changes could bring significant benefits: They would not have to make proffers part of their application package for these sites.


“This absolutely revolutionizes how the county will grow,” said Gary Friedman, the Planning Commission’s at-large member responsible for bringing forth the idea at last week’s meeting.


In short, the plan requires a “concurrent percentage phasing” of the residential and commercial components of mixed-use developments, according to a fact sheet for the Planning Commission. That is, the sheet reads, “if Phase One of a project calls for 20 percent of the residential component it must also require at least 20 percent of the non-residential component.”


The intent, Friedman said, is to ensure developments in these zoned areas don’t slow or stop with housing, but rather bring forth the revenue-producing side of mixed-use projects — the commercial — in rapid fashion.


Other specifics of the recommendations: Development proposals must all focus on rehabilitation. They must span at least 100 acres. And they must not exceed the cap for residential. Only 25 percent of the development plan can include housing, according to the Comp Plan recommendations.


“These projects that come in under the first two conditions … will be considered by the county to be in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan and will be proffer-free,” Friedman said.


The proposal, he said, is win-win, as it protects the Rural Crescent, cleans up blighted areas of the county, and brings commercial development to areas of the county where some infrastructure already exists.


“This will have a major impact on the tax structure of the county,” he added.


Another plus is the Planning Commission’s latest recommendations bypass the politics and ethics complaints that undercut an earlier proposal. That plan from Land Use Advisory Committee members identified overlay areas on a map as Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community that were characterized by high-density, mixed uses that furthered “smart growth” principles.


One version of that proposal also recommended supervisors pursue a Transfer of Development Right program giving developers the ability to trade building rights for higher densities.


Two of the LUAC members were developers; some in the community complained these developers purposely pushed through a land use policy for Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor consideration that would impact their private properties and lead to personal financial gain. In response, one developer, as well as a couple of his committee colleagues, said all LUAC discussions were open and above board, and the locations of the builders’ properties were common knowledge.


John Stirrup, R-Gainesville and vice chair of the supervisors, ultimately sought investigation of the issue by the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Manassas and the attorney general’s office in Richmond.


“One big thing with this plan,” said Friedman, about his current proposal, “is that … it removes the problems associated with the LUAC from the [Comp Plan] discussions and just concentrates on the policy implications. All the Centers’ language is gone. There’re no Centers of Community, no Centers of Commerce, all the dots are gone from the map … and the TDRs are gone.”


Friedman’s proposal instructing staff to change and refine the language of the Comp Plan land-use chapter passed the Planning Commission with a 7-1 vote. Both boards — planning as well as supervisors — still have to consider and approve the final text.


Staff writer Cheryl Chumley can be reached at 703-670-1907.


I hope you find this information helpful.


Thank you,




Laurie Anne Cronin

Senior Aide

Chairman Corey A. Stewart

Prince William County Board of Supervisors

(703) 792- 5626 / (703) 792 – 4640 /



—–Original Message—–
From: Ralph Stephenson [] Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2008 9:37 AM
To: Caddigan, Maureen S.; Covington, W. S. Wally; Nohe, Marty E.; Stewart, Corey A.; Gainesville District; Jenkins, John D.; May, Michael C.; Principi, Frank J.
Cc: Stephenson, Kathy; Stephenson, Kate; Stephenson, Daniel; Stephenson, Benjamin
Subject: We Strongly Oppose the CoC Proposal


Members of the Board of County Supervisors:  Thank you for all you do to serve the county, and Happy Holidays to all of you.


We’d like to share with you excerpts from an e-mail exchange in late November 2008 with a friend regarding the Centers of Community/Centers of Commerce proposal put forward by the Land Use Advisory Commission.


We had e-mailed to him the following information:  …”An advisory body to the county — following behind-the-scenes lobbying by local residential developers for many months, with virtually no effort to keep citizens informed or to receive broad-based input from them — is proposing that at least 30-35,000 homes (likely to accommodate about 100,000 people) be built in the Haymarket-Gainesville-Bristow-Manassas area in the coming years.  If this does not sound to you like a good idea, I strongly urge you to get involved…”


He responded:  “…Thanks for keeping me in the loop on these issues. Unfortunately, I am out of town this week and will be unable to attend the [3 December Planning Commission] meeting.  As usual, hard working citizens will be under-represented due to our efforts to make a living and grow the economy…”


We in turn responded to him that we shared his frustration that ordinary citizens have to so frequently defend themselves against outrageous proposals like this one and the infamous Brentswood plan.


We the undersigned …  strongly recommend that AT MOST only one or two Centers of Commerce be added to the CompPlan now, IF AND WHERE THE EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE CAN SUPPORT THEM, and that no Centers of Community be added. With 20-30,000 homes approved but not yet built and thousands of homes in foreclosure in the county, only a fool or someone who stands to gain personally, to the detriment of the county as a whole, would suggest that we should now fast-track approval for 75,000 new homes (meaning ~225,000 people) by putting this in the CompPlan. Yet that is what this plan for 19 Centers of Community and 6 Centers ofCommerce indeed proposes.


Taxpayers will pay through the nose for this plan.  How will they pay?  Through:  1) ever-worsening traffic congestion (note recent Forbes article on Linton Hall having the worst commute in the country:;  2) increasingly overcrowded public schools; 3) declining property values in existing neighborhoods (oversupply drives down the value of your home and can eventually lead to older neighborhoods becoming blighted unnecessarily); 4) further damage to the county tax base (commercial  development subsidizes the tax base, while almost all residential development results in higher taxes for all of us); and 5) further adverse effects on quality-of-life issues, including the environment.


Again, we strongly recommend that AT MOST only one or two Centers of Commerce be added to the CompPlan now, IF AND WHERE THE EXISTINGINFRASTRUCTURE CAN SUPPORT THEM, and that no Centers of Community be added.

Ralph Stephenson

Kathy Stephenson


“The Daily Grind: America’s Worst Small Towns for Commuters; Those in the country’s little spots don’t necessarily have easy trips to work”

by Jon Bruner,

9 December 2008

“New York City’s subway system irks travelers on a daily basis. But it’s likely less frustrating than the roads those in Linton Hall, Va., take to work.

“The 21,118-person town is 35 miles from Washington, D.C., and the 78% of residents who drive alone each day take an average of 46.3 minutes to get to work. That’s seven minutes longer than New Yorkers and 17 minutes longer than Angelenos.

“In fact, the Washington, D.C., area is by far the worst part of the country for small-city commutes. Of the 100 small towns with the longest commutes, 18 are in Maryland and 10 are in Virginia–all of which are in the suburban sprawl radiating from Washington and Baltimore.

“Illinois comes in second, with 16 suburbs of Chicago making the 100 worst cities list.

“Brentwood, Calif., Fort Washington, Md., Los Banos, Calif., and Clinton, Md., round out the top five.

“Behind the Numbers
“We compiled our list using data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. It ranks cities, towns and Census-designated places by the average amount of time it takes for residents to get to work. The data, of places with populations between 20,000 and 64,999, come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s three-year American Community Survey, which, between 2005 and 2007, asked respondents across the country how long it took them to get to work in the previous week.

“The results show that many of the worst commutes begin in towns on the fringes big cities. Take Linton Hall, Va. With areas closer to D.C. growing more crowded and expensive, boom-time buyers looking for affordable new construction found themselves in this little town.

” ‘The developers out here did a really good job of selling a lifestyle,’ says Linton Hall Realtors owner and broker Ashley Leigh. Linton Hall is especially popular with military contractors, he says, many of whom brave the 35-mile drive to the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., in order to live in new, spacious houses at low prices.”

“Related Stories
 “Linton Hall’s commutes fall in line with the typical fringe-development pattern, says Robert Dunphy, senior resident fellow for transportation and infrastructure at the Urban Land Institute. Developers build housing on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, and residents take on long commutes to distant jobs. Employers gradually move outward and commutes shorten, but those new jobs draw housing development into even more distant areas.

“In Depth: Worst Small Towns For Commuters

“In Depth: Best Small Towns For Commuters

“The longest commutes tend to be car-centric: More than three-quarters of Linton Hall’s workers drive to work alone, for instance, and only 4% take public transportation. The exception to that rule is Bainbridge Island, Wash., served by ferry from Seattle. Commutes there average 42 minutes, but 29% of commuters take public transportation to work.

“Many cities with short commutes are also among the most walkable. In State College, Pa., where the average commute takes 13 minutes, 45% of workers reported walking to their jobs. More than 30% of commuters walk to work in the college towns of Athens, Ohio, and Oxford, Ohio, where commutes all average less than 15 minutes.

“Aberdeen, S.D., had the shortest commutes on average–just 10.4 minutes. Two forts are also among the places with the easiest commutes: Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas. There, like in those college towns with short commutes, residents live very close to work.

“That type of arrangement is likely to remain rare in many of the nation’s exurbs. Though the recession might seem to help commutes–traffic congestion typically eases during downturns–new jobs aren’t appearing in fringe towns, so residents will need to stick with the far-away jobs they have.

“This has been the case with Linton Hall. Since the economy has cooled and the development cycle slowed, home prices in the town has declined roughly 40%, compared with 25% to 30% drops in suburbs closer to Washington.

” ‘The jobs just haven’t materialized out here,’ says Leigh. Still, he points to new Lockheed Martin and FBI offices nearby and hopes that more employers will move toward the western suburbs.

“To counteract this situation, Dunphy says that rapidly growing areas need to take a regional approach to limiting fringe development.

” ‘People are taking on long commutes in part because of what’s being provided,’ he says, noting that compact, walkable housing is underprovided.

“Better planning will also need to involve limits on how far out of the city employment centers can move, he says, in order to slow the cycle of jobs moving outward and pushing housing development even further. Barack Obama has promised to create an Office of Urban Policy, which could help direct regions and states to formulate healthy development policies.

“But until these regions find some direction for their development, the cycle will likely continue–with attendant long commutes.

“As Dunphy says, ‘The easiest development is always on the edge.’ “

E-mail alert from PWCBG to county citizens regarding Centers of Commerce/Community proposal

by Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

26 Nov 2008

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: PW County Citizen Alert: I Strongly Urge You To Get Involved
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2008 14:04:54 -0500
From: Ralph Stephenson <>
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

All:  The county — following behind-the-scenes lobbying by local residential developers for many months, with virtually no effort to keep citizens informed or to receive broad-based input from them — is proposing that at least 30-35,000 homes (accommodating about 100,000 people) be built in the Haymarket-Gainesville-Bristow-Manassas area in the coming years.  If this does not sound to you like a good idea, I strongly urge you to get involved.

You can get involved by contacting the Board of County Supervisors.  I urge you to send e-mails opposing this idea, at least as currently written, to all eight members of the Board.  Here are e-mail addresses.

I also urge you to speak against this proposal at the Prince William County Planning Commission meeting on 3 Dec, Wednesday at 7 pm at the Board of Supervisors Chambers in the McCoart Building of the County Complex off the PW County Parkway.  (The Planning Commission is the primary land-use advisory body to the Board of Supervisors.)  I intend to be there to speak and would be happy to go early to sign up by 6:00 pm anyone else who would like to speak.  Let me know if you’d like me to do this for you.  Each speaker is limited to three minutes. There will almost certainly be a follow-up public hearing in January or later at which the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will vote on and decide the issue.  Please strongly consider speaking at that meeting as well.

If you have any questions, please let me know.  And please share this message with any of your friends/neighbors who you think would be interested.

It is my impression that you would like to receive e-mail alerts about major actions by your county government that affect you.  If not, please let me know right away so I can take you off the mailing list.

For those of you who were asking or who might be interested, here are links to info on the county Centers of Community Proposal.  The first is specific info.  The second is the homepage for Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth. (Note:  In this plan, the county is also proposing 6 “Centers of Commerce“, which have mixed housing, retail, and other commercial.  My view is that planning now for 1 or 2 of these in the county — maybe more later — could be reasonable, depending on a number of factors, including whether they are located around infrastructure that can handle them.) : Centers of Community/Commerce

Further info on the Centers of Community proposal and its likely impact is included below.

The county is proposing sweeping changes to how it accommodates future growth by designating 19 locations in the county as “Centers of Community”.  Centers of Community are  large areas (reportedly about one square mile) that are specifically planned for high-density housing.

The screenshot at the bottom of this e-mail, which I took off the county website, summarizes the current plan.  There are  19 planned Centers of Community — 11 in the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas area, and 8 at the east end of the county.  If each of these centers builds 3,000 homes, which is about the same density level as the infamous 2005-06 Brentswood Project, and assuming the county’s average of three people per house, that would total 171,000 more people, a 50% increase in the population of the entire county.

See this link, noting particularly the land use update, for more info:

You might be interested to know that making this plan part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, as proposed, will effectively fast-track the approval process for all residential development in the Centers of Community.

I believe that nothing like this should be allowed to slip thru without thorough citizen input and thorough study and publicizing of its impact on:  1) traffic congestion; 2) overcrowding in schools; 3) property values in existing neighborhoods (oversupply drives down the value of your home and can eventually lead to older neighborhoods becoming blighted unnecessarily); 4) the county tax base (commercial development subsidizes the tax base while almost all residential development results in higher taxes for you); and 5) other quality-of-life issues including the environment.  Note:  Relative to the county tax base, all but the most expensive homes in the county are a net drain on county services and tax revenue.  This means that ultimately as a taxpayer you indirectly subsidize all the other, non-high-income housing, which the county, already glutted with thousands of foreclosed and unsold homes, doesn’t even need.  (By the way, those thousands of foreclosed and unsold homes can themselves become a significant tax burden on county taxpayers.)  And at last count, there were still 25-30,000 approved, but not-yet-built homes in the county.

It’s ironic that the county is bringing this up for discussion at the very time that the U.S. is in the middle of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis brought on by, among other things, massive housing oversupply, predatory and dishonest lending practices by many mortgage lenders to people who couldn’t afford the homes they were being sold, and the financially toxic effect of these millions of now-non-performing (bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors. (Forbes magazine reported 2.2 million foreclosures in the U.S. in 2007 alone.)

Centers of Community Locator Map

Centers of Commerce Locator Map


“Land-use body faces scrutiny”

by Cheryl Chumley, Bull Run Observer

7 November 2008

“Prince William County’s top prosecutor said Thursday his office is going forth with an investigation into conflict-of-interest issues surrounding certain land-use committee members and their alleged ability to gain financially from their positions.

“Committee members, meanwhile, say those accusations are off-base.

“The issue began in May 2007, when the Board of County Supervisors appointed eight citizens to a Land Use Advisory Committee [LUAC] to update one chapter of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. State code requires county governments to review Comp Plans every five years and revise or update as needed.

“Two of these appointees were developers.

“In April 2008, the LUAC members brought forth Smart Growth recommendations — as they were commissioned to do at the outset — that involved the creation of Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community. Part of this ‘Smart Growth’ strategy was to target certain areas for high-density development.

“It was the chosen locations for these proposed density increases that became problematic.

“On the heels of citizen complaints, Board of Supervisors vice chair John Stirrup, R-Gainesville, asked county attorney Ross Horton last month to investigate whether the proposed land-use changes included properties owned by the two developers on the LUAC, whether they disclosed their interests in line with state law, and whether their potential to benefit financially from these recommendations violated conflict of interest rules.

“In a letter dated Oct. 15, Horton put the matter onto Paul Ebert, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, for investigation. A week and a-half later, Ebert said he still hadn’t decided whether to go forward with formal questioning.

“On Thursday, however, he stated otherwise.

” ‘I’m trying to determine what interest in those properties those people have and then decide whether the [conflict of interest] statute applies,’ he said, confirming that his office was investigating the issue.

Stirrup’s letter

“The timing of Ebert’s decision to investigate came around the same time frame as when Stirrup mailed his own letter to the Commonwealth Attorney requesting official action. But Stirrup also sent a copy of this letter to the Attorney General in Richmond. In it, Stirrup laid out several points that begged for investigation and reminded that ‘this is not the first time possible abuse of the Citizens Advisory Committee process has surfaced in Prince William County,’ the letter read.

“A similar scandal involving conflict of interest issues for committee appointees reared in 2000, Stirrup wrote, and Ebert’s subsequent investigation then found violations of the spirit, if not letter, of the law had occurred. This LUAC case is akin [to the 2000 conflict of interest allegations] in that ‘the basic disclosure, improper influence and participation issues seem to have close similarities,’ he wrote.

“Stirrup also explained in his letter his reasons for bringing the Attorney General’s office into the issue. Ebert, he wrote, has a ‘longstanding public association’ with the very same public official who appointed one developer to the LUAC.

” ‘Given that fact,’ Stirrup wrote, ‘it would seem prudent to suggest that engagement of an independent outside public prosecutor might serve to clear any public perceptions or misperceptions in this regard.’

“When asked about this letter and what finally led to his decision to pursue rather than drop the matter, Ebert said he had not heard from the Attorney General and that he chose to go forth with the investigation because it was his job.

” ‘That’s what I do,’ he said. ‘I investigate anybody. If somebody made a complaint alleging certain criminal complaints, I investigate it.’

“LUAC members, meanwhile, say the conflict of interest accusations have no legs.

“David Christiansen said he did not know the two developers personally on the committee prior to their appointments. But their experiences and knowledge proved valuable in the formation of land-use recommendations, especially those regarding the identification of commercial development areas, he said. Christiansen also said that from the outset, committee members were informed of the developers’ backgrounds.

” ‘It even came out they had some property [in the discussed areas],’ Christiansen said. ‘Everything was pretty much above board … and they didn’t have any direct influence. Obviously, they wanted certain things to happen to benefit them.’

Personal interest

“But all committee members took a personal interest in the outcomes of the LUAC, he said, and were even asked to state their individual goals in early meetings.

” ‘My agenda was preserving the Rural Crescent,’ Christiansen said. ‘And my feeling was that knowing there were developers on the committee just added something to discussions.’

“Fellow committee member Tom Kopko, meanwhile, said that ‘by and large, the committee acted unanimously,’ so the policy recommendations and accompanying maps that emerged for Planning Commission and supervisors review represented the views of eight, not two.

“Mark Granville-Smith, one of the developers on the committee, said he would be happy to discuss the issue with Ebert as the investigation progressed. But he also added that the entire committee process was open to the public, that the meetings were recorded, and that the recommendations that came forth not only followed Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor guidelines to create some Smart Growth strategies, but that were just that — recommendations. All Comp Plan changes are still subject to final board approval.

“Moreover, Granville-Smith said, the committee simply recommended overlay areas on the map. Each development proposal for these areas would still have to go through the normal Planning Commission and Boardof Supervisor process for approval, which includes public hearing, he said.

“The other developer on the committee, Charles Rector [of Weber-Rector, Inc.], did not return a telephone call for comment.

“Staff writer Cheryl Chumley can be reached at 703-670-1907.”

“Planners ok comp plan housing changes; land-use and transpo need more work”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

31 October 2008, pp 16-17

“Revisions to the land use and transportation chapters of Prince William County’s comprehensive plan will be coming back to the county’s Planning Commission December 3. At its October 8 special session, the commission agreed unanimously that the chapters needed additional work and clarification. A Planning Commission work session was set for Oct. 15 on the proposed revisions.

“By a 5 to 3 vote, commissioners recommended approving changes to the comprehensive plan’s housing chapter. This chapter is set for a public hearing before Prince William Board of County Supervisors Dec. 2.

“State code requires the Planning Commission to review the comprehensive plan every five years to determine if amendments are needed. The plan last was revised in 2003.

“In May 2007, the county’s Board of Supervisors named an eight-man Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) to study changes to the land use chapter. Other committees were set up to study the transportation and housing chapters.

“The LUAC committee met at least twice each month for 11 months, and was chaired by Tom Kopko. Each member of the Board of Supervisors named a representative to LUAC.

“During the Oct. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting, John Stirrup, (R-Gainesville), asked residents to attend the special Planning Commission meeting the following night. He asserted there were several land use changes proposed, including designating ‘12,566 acres of urban town center development…under the guise of 25 centers of commerce or centers of community throughout the county.’  He added he’d heard from several citizens about a possible conflict of interest of some members of LUAC, and questioned whether decisions made by them ‘may have personal benefit to them’ if the land use comp plan changes are instituted.

“Stirrup asked Ross Horton, county attorney, to investigate the possible conflict of interest, but Horton noted such an investigation or inquiry would have to be done by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. The board agreed to have the Commonwealth Attorney check into the matter.

“The land use plan says centers of commerce ‘would be planned urban town centers where a variety of activities with a regional draw allows people to work, shop, dine, live and enjoy entertainment.’ These centers would have easy access to major transportation hubs, commuter rail, express bus service and commuter parking.

“LUAC defined a center of community as ‘neighborhood centers for residences to live, shop, dine, recreate and congregate.’ They should contain a mix of uses, with low to mid-rise offices serving a local market, neighborhood-serving retail, high- and low-density housing and institutional uses.

“The Board of Supervisors at its May 20 meeting decided unanimously to initiate the land use and housing updates to the comp plan. But Marty Nohe, (R-Coles), noted that the part of the plan dealing with semi-rural residential (SRR) uses ‘needs a lot of love.’

“David McGettigan of the county’s Planning Office told the Oct. 8 meeting the land use plan contains six centers of commerce and 19 centers of community.

“More than 50 people addressed the Oct. 8 meeting, speaking for and against the land use and transportation chapter changes. Only two county residents spoke on the housing chapter.

“David Blake, Brentsville District, told the hearing tourism is the second largest industry in Virginia. He added that making U.S 29 a six-lane highway in the Buckland area will ‘jeopardize Buckland’s integrity.’

“Laurie Wieder, president of Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she’d reviewed the comp plan chapters under discussion, adding ‘We say yes to the centers of commerce and centers of community as a strong planning tool.’ She noted she favored flexibility in the planning and zoning process in the county.

“Mark Granville-Smith, Brentsville District, the Woodbridge appointee to the LUAC and a county developer, asserted it ‘was no secret’ he ‘was in the building business.’ He said he was proud to have served on the LUAC, and that the committee had had ‘lots of input from citizens.’ He added, ‘I can assure you that I had no interest in property that was not disclosed.’ He added smart growth is ‘difficult to understand.’

“Mary Ann Ghadban, a commercial real estate broker, told the hearing business wouldn’t come to the county because it has no identification or destination. She added the centers ‘would create the allure.’

“Bryanna Altman, Coles District, explained she supported the centers of commerce, but not their locations. She recommended involving professional consultants who use smart growth methods.

“Bob Weir asserted that parts of the plan were flawed. He said the plan ‘is tainted by allegations of improprieties,’ and asked recommendations on the chapters be deferred.

“John Dawson, Brentsville District, recommended concentrating on improving the US 1 corridor. ‘This could be the gateway to Prince William. Make it a showcase. Start here. We’re missing the boat by spreading development across the county,’ Dawson contended.

“Michele Trenum, Brentsville District, said that, as a daughter of a commercial real estate broker, she respects the development community, ‘but when people pursue their own personal business in drafting the plan, we lack the balance required for public trust.

” ‘When the fox guards the hen house, you got a problem, but when the fox gets out his pencil and draws up the plans for the hen house, you’ve got big problems,’ Trenum noted.

“She added she was not criticizing LUAC as a group, but that conflict of interest laws ‘simply say if a LUAC member has a personal or business interest in a piece of land, he cannot discuss or vote on any change for that land.’

“Trenum said there is no problem with a developer serving on LUAC.

” ‘However, it is not fine to have that developer discussing or voting on his own land,’ she contended.

“Ralph Stephenson, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, noted there would be 13 centers in the western part of the county, and 12 in the east. He said the centers could bring 225,000 more people to the county. He added that most homes are a net financial drain on the county.

” ‘I’m on the mailing list for all county information, and I never saw anything about this,’ Stephenson said. ‘The publicity was not sufficient. There should be a thorough public study of the true cost [before] this is approved.’

“Greg Ayers, Manassas, said proposed center sites ‘were plopped down and called a plan… It’s a concept disguised as a plan.’ He asked the Planning Commission not to approve the land use plan without ‘detailed information on the centers.’ “

“Commercial Developers Happier With County Permit Process”

by Cheryl K. Chumley, News and Messenger

15 Oct 2008, p. A2

“It’s like night and day, Prince William supervisor Martin Nohe, R-Coles, said Tueday, in reference to constituents’ feedback since the county implemented a program to speed the permitting process for commercial development.

” ‘I got a phone call the other day [from a constituent] just to tell me how much happier he was with the new permitting system,’ Nohe said.  ‘That’s such a dramatic, refreshing change from what I normally get when he calls.’

“Apparently, this constituent was a frequent complainer of the county’s perceived handling of business permits — but all that’s changed, according to Susan Roltsch, with the office of executie management.

“Since May, when the board first directed staff to look into ways of hastening commercial permits, the county has completed several goals, from forming an early assistance policy that brings to light ‘what all the issues are before we get too far into the process,’ Roltsch said, to cutting red tape for business owners who are trying to relocate into a building or space already zoned for their requested use.

“Two separate customer satisfaction surveys rating the weeks between July 1 and Sept. 26 seem to be giving thumbs-up to the new system, too, she said.

“The first, an over-the-counter brief questionnaire, has returned satisfaction results of 95 percent, according to background documenbts presented [to] the board.  And a more in-depth mailed survey found 91 percent of respondents found customer satisfaction — a key component of the new program — was favorable.  That’s up from the period ending June 30, when customer satisfaction with staff service regarding commercial permitting was only rated at 71 percent, the survey results read.

” ‘[It’s] never, never saying, it’s not my job,’ Roltsch said, referring to lessons learned from recent training to improve customer service for permit applicants.

“Other tell-tale signs of seeming success:  The staff report finds that 79 percent of commercial building plans were reviewed within six weeks; 73 percent of all site plans within the proper time frames.

“Still in the works are plans to create a customer bill of rights ‘so our customers know what to expect,’ Roltsch said, and speed the process of other permits related to commercial development, like those regulating signs.”

Prince William County construction plan addressed

PW Pulse, 9 October 2008, p. A7

The Committee [of] 100’s October 1 meeting at Manassas’s Sheraton Four Points addressed Prince William County’s Comprehensive Plan for ‘Smart Growth’ development affecting construction through the year 2030. The comprehensive plan proposes 19 ‘Centers of Community’ and six regional ‘Centers of Commerce.’ Panelists included Ray Utz, PWC’s Chief of Long Range Planning; Bob Marshall, 13th District Delegate to the General Assembly; Stewart Schwartz, founder, Coalition for Smarter Growth; Michael Vanderpool, Land Use Attorney. Peter Galuszka, award-winning journalist and blogger at ‘Bacon’s Rebellion,’ moderated the forum.

“According to the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], ‘Smarth Growth’ covers a range of develoment and conservation strategies that help protect the environment and make communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse. In PWC, Smart Growth refers to the latest trend in planning and is generally defined as vibrant, walkable, environmentally sensitive communities providing public transportation and preserving farmland, thus reducing sprawl. According to Vanderpool, mixed use development with housing, condos, work places, and shopping conveniently located within walking distance represent a preferred layout by young professionals. Vanderpool described PWC’s previous planning as ‘Post WWII’ in which land was segregated into housing, work, and retail space, thus demanding private transportation. He contended that this land is better developed as centers versus ‘more of the same’ since the land will be developed one way or another.

“In conjunction with Utz’s staff, a group of citizens appointed by the Board of County Supervisors proposed the Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community. Delegate Marshall addressed potential inappropriate voting by Citizen Advisory Board members. According to law, board members with conflicts of interest must abstain from voting. Delegate Marshall also criticized what he viewed as lack of communication with the public about this process. Two thousand postcards containing limited information were mailed out only to residents living near planned centers. Utz said, however, that the information was released to the press and made available on the county’s website.

“Citizens cited the backlog of new and foreclosed homes as well as other current unused buildings. Schwartz said there were no easy answers but that recevelopment of existing empty lots and buildings should be considered over more build-outs. Other citizens voiced the need for protecting trees, Manassas Battlefield Park, additional Civil War battlefields and historic sites. Mr. Utz, who recently received more detailed battlefield maps, said those resources were considered in developing the proposal and would be included in the long-range plans….”

Speech at PWC Planning Commission hearing on Centers of Commerce/Community

by PWCBG’s Ralph Stephenson

8 Oct 2008

Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, my name is Ralph Stephenson. I live in the Brentsville District and represent Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth. Visit our website at

The county is proposing radical changes to how it accommodates future growth by designating 25 locations in the county as “Centers of Community & Commerce (CoCs).” These are large areas (reportedly about one square mile) that are specifically planned for high-density mixed use, particularly high-density housing. According to the county website, there are 13 centers in the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas area, and 12 at the east end of the county. If each of these 25 centers builds 3,000 houses on average, which is about the same density as the infamous 2006 Brentswood Project, and assuming the county’s average of about three people per house, that would total 225,000 more people, a 62% increase in the county’s population. Yet, it will take many, many years to work off the county’s current glut of thousands of foreclosed and unsold houses, plus the 25-30,000 already-approved-but-not-yet-built, at last count. In whose interest is it to plan even more, massively more housing now?

Citizens might be interested to know that two of the main authors of this plan are leading members of the Prince William County developer community who may have a direct business interest (most would call it a major conflict-of-interest) in land involved in the plan, owning some of the land proposed for development. Citizens might also be interested to know that making this plan part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, as proposed, will apparently effectively bypass the former approval and public hearing process, and fast-track CoC development projects for expedited approval.

Let me depart from my prepared text here for just a moment to say that this plan has not been well publicized. I’m on all the county’s mailing lists and never received any word of this plan until I began burrowing into the most recent proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and noticed it buried there and also heard about it through e-mails from other concerned citizens.

This plan should not be allowed to slip thru without broad-based citizen input and thorough study and publicizing of its impact on: 1) traffic congestion, 2) overcrowding in schools, 3) the county property tax base, 4) property values in existing neighborhoods (oversupply drives down the value of your home), and 5) the environment. Note: Relative to the property tax base, all but the most expensive homes in the county are a net drain on county services and tax revenue. Ultimately, as taxpayers, we indirectly subsidize all the other, non-high-income housing, which the county, already glutted with thousands of foreclosed and unsold homes — and tens of thousands more approved but not yet built — doesn’t even need. And note also that the 100,000 people who would live in these houses are in addition to the 225,000, more or less, that would result from the CoC plan we’re discussing today. 325,000 more people would double the county’s current population.

It’s ironic, even bizarre, that the county is bringing this up for discussion at the very time that the U.S. is in the middle of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis brought on by, among other things, massive housing oversupply (probably the single biggest cause), predatory and dishonest lending practices by many mortgage lenders to people who couldn’t afford the homes they were being sold, and the financially toxic effect of these millions of now-non-performing (bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors. [Forbes magazine reported 2.2 million foreclosures in the U.S. in 2007 alone.]

This plan in its current direction should go no further. But if it does, let’s demand a thorough, public study and accounting of all its true costs to taxpayers. Thank you.

Smart Growth schematic makes inroads into county

 by Cheryl Chumley, PW Pulse

2 October 2008, pp. A12, A16

“Substantial land-use changes are in the works for Prince William County, as committee appointees, staff, and Planning Commission members prepare to send some Smart Growth strategies to the supervisors for consideration later this year.

“Smart Growth, according to the county’s proposal, is an Environmental Protection Agency schematic for development and conservation that is based on 10 major principles. Taken together, the concepts result in communities that offer plenty of open space, sidewalks for walking, environmentally-friendly building designs, mixed-use shopping and residential developments and options for transportation.

“Or, in the words of the county’s proposal: ‘Smart Growth is town-centered, is transit and pedestrain oriented and has a mix of housing, office and retail uses. It also creates open space and preserves environmental amenities and cultural resources. Additionally, because of quality architecture and site planning, these communities are generally attractive and desirable.’

“The draft recommendations will come before the Planning Commission for public hearing in October, and to the Board of County Supervisors within the weeks that follow, according to Ray Utz, chief of long range planning for the county. Of especial note, the plan calls for the creation of two overlay districts — Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community.

” ‘The Land Use Advisory Committee [LUAC] identified six centers of commerce,’ chosen largely because of their proximity to the major highways, Interstate 95 and Interstate 66, Utz said.

“And so far, 19 Centers of Community have been mapped.

” ‘It’s huge,’ he continued, in reference to the sixe of land involved. ‘Each dot on the map has about a half mile radius, and if you do the math, do the whole Pi-R squared, there’s a lot of acreage. The idea was to create opportunities for creative projects for both development and redevelopment, so what the LUAC did was try to establish these dots in areas of opportunity for change.’

“The identified areas of Centers of Commerce include spots in Gainesville, Wellington, Caton Hill, North Woodbridge and Potomac Mills. The sixth proposed area, Quantico Creek, is likely to change in scope, Utz said.

“The land areas are supposed to promote ‘high density, mixed-use development near existing and planned multi-modal transit centers that will facilitate greater use of mass transit by county residents,’ as well as provide local job opportunities, the proposal reads.

“The 19 Centers of Community, meanwhile, will provide ‘an appropriate mix of uses that meet the needs of the community,’ and developments that ‘complement the mix — at the density and intensity needed to support local transit,’ the proposal continues.

“The definitions are still somewhat nebulous. But what is clear is the process starts with the county’s adoption of a transfer of development rights [TDR] program, giving developers the ability to ‘trade’ building rights among certain parcels of land. Developers, in turn, can maximize their densities to a level that would attract mass transportation opportunities. The greater the residential and business populations, the easier it is to justify the need and costs for mass transit, in other words.

“‘The difference between the two centers is scale,’ Utz said. ‘Centers of Commerce might be multifamily, multistory, apartments only. Centers of Community are lower scale, your town houses, garden apartments. The Centers of Community is a more community-based overlay.’

“The Centers of Commerce on the other hand, are ‘neighborhood services,’ he said.

“Upon adoption, the Centers’ concepts would bring further land use regulations — via the likes of zoning and construction standards manual amendments, for example — dealing with parking, bulding architecture and design, lot sizes, trail requirements and so forth, according to the proposal.”

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