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.’ “