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.