by Joe Coombs, Washington Business Journal

17 Mar 2008

“Railing against housing: Bob Simmons envisions offices, a preserved granary and 772 homes in Wheeler’s Grove next to an RV park. Prince  William County doesn’t share his vision for that many homes.

“It would span more than 100 acres and bring in 1.5 million square feet of office space that Prince William County wants.

“But the plan also includes nearly 800 homes, and that part may get the ax from county officials.

“Developer Bob Simmons has a grand vision for Wheeler’s Grove, a proposed mixed-use community that abuts Interstate 66.

“The Wheeler’s Grove plan includes a lot of the commercial space that county officials have been encouraging in projects.

“However, Simmons also is proposing 772 homes on the site, near the juncture of Balls Ford and Bethlehem roads.

“County supervisors are not enthusiastic about all those homes.

” ‘The way I look at it, we have an oversupply of housing right now,’ said Corey Stewart, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. ‘We need to develop more office space and high-end retail. That being said, we do need to encourage more mixed-use developments with walkable communities.’

“Stewart would like Simmons to cut the number of housing units in half, if possible.

“Prince William leans too heavily on home­owners’ tax dollars, Stewart said. Only 14 percent of the county’s tax base is derived from commercial properties.

“For comparison, Loudoun County receives about 20 percent of its taxes from commercial properties, and Arlington County gets about 45 from commercial uses.

“Simmons has not indicated whether the property’s multifamily units will be condominiums or apartments.

“The developer says he is within his rights to bring multifamily housing to the site.

“The property is designated a ‘regional employment center’ under the county’s comprehensive plan. That classification allows commercial use on 75 percent of the land and residential or retail projects on as much as 25 percent of the property.

“Simmons also is seeking approval for a 306-unit multifamily development called Ashton Park Center on Bethlehem Road near Wheeler’s Grove.

“The two proposals combined would come with more than $20 million in infrastructure improvements and school proffers.

” ‘These are major infrastructure contributions,’ said Dennis Cate, an attorney representing Simmons. ‘That doesn’t even count the value that will be generated from the office space we’re going to bring.’

“Simmons would not say how much the projects will cost but calls his investment ‘significant.’

“He wants the opportunity to provide a new gateway to Prince William from I-66, Simmons said. ‘This is the most aggressive office commitment that has been made in this area.’

“Simmons has been working on Wheeler’s Grove for about three years, he said.

“Besides the housing and office space, other aspects of the plan include two hotels with a total of 290 rooms and up to 218,000 square feet of retail space.

“Some retail would be on the ground floors of office and residential buildings, and some would be on stand-alone plots.

“The proposal was first reviewed by Prince William’s planning staff in 2006 and was rejected because it lacked planned infrastructure improvements, said Fran Burnsyznski, a county planner. Another concern was that no space had been set aside for a school.

“But those problems faded with proffers and infrastructure plans that Simmons added to the proposal. Talks are ongoing about a the possibility of school on the property, Simmons said.

“The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the Wheeler’s Grove and Ashton Park Center applications April 1.”