Citizens for Balanced Growth

Year: 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

“National trends could drag down D.C. area housing market’s gains”

by Dina ElBoghdady, The Washington Post

30 Dec 2010

“Although Washington area housing has  outperformed the national market, which has been devastated by the twin ills of unemployment and foreclosure, the question going into a new year is whether the rest of the country can follow the D.C. area into recovery – or whether the local market will be dragged down by national trends.

“Economic forecasters are singling out the housing sector as a weak spot even as the rest of the economy appears to be gaining steam. About 57 percent of the economists and real estate experts surveyed by Macro Markets in December said they don’t see home prices recovering until some time in 2012. About 35 percent said they don’t see that happening until 2013.

“The recent run-up in mortgage interest rates from record lows and some lenders’ decision to temporarily halt evictions while they sort through foreclosure paperwork errors only add to general unease about the housing market’s direction.

“The Washington region has suffered less than many other parts of the country, but it, too, continues to have problem areas. From January through November, median prices dropped in Maryland’s Prince George’s, Calvert and Frederick counties, compared with a year earlier, according to George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. Prince George’s showed the steepest decline: 15.6 percent.

“So what are the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a robust recovery?  The nation’s high unemployment rate – 9.8 percent – and the swelling volume of foreclosures.

“As long as people are unemployed or working for reduced pay, they are unlikely to buy a home and saddle themselves with a mortgage. Meanwhile, homeowners who have been out of work for long stretches are falling behind on their mortgages, adding to the foreclosure glut.

“Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates that 4 million homes were in foreclosure or on the brink of it heading into this year. That’s in addition to the 6.2 million homes that were foreclosed upon between 2007 and 2010. Together, those 10.2 million foreclosures are equivalent to the populations of North Carolina and Vermont combined.

“Clearing these homes off the market is key to a recovery, because foreclosures tend to drag down prices nearby. As 2010 drew to a close, foreclosures and other distressed properties made up about one-third of existing home sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. Home prices were 26 percent off their 2006 peak.

“With prices down from their heights, about one in four borrowers in this country is underwater, meaning that any equity they may have had has vanished and they now owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to financial research company CoreLogic. That threatens to exacerbate the foreclosure crisis, because it leaves these borrowers unable to refinance or sell their homes if they face a job loss or other setback.

“U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner cited all these factors as challenges in the year ahead when he testified before the Congressional Oversight Panel in December.

” ‘The most important thing that’s going to affect the trajectory of house prices, the overall number of foreclosures, the ability of people to stay in their home, is what the government is able to do to get the unemployment rate down much more quickly,’ Geithner told the panel.

Fewer foreclosures
“The Washington housing market has held up better than many parts of the country in part because of its relatively low unemployment rate and robust supply of high-paying jobs that helped fuel demand for homes.

“The region’s foreclosure rate and its delinquency rate for borrowers at least three months behind on their mortgages have trailed the national averages since the housing crisis began, according to CoreLogic. As of September, the area’s foreclosure rate was 2.1 percent, vs. 3.3 percent nationally, and its seriously delinquent rate was 6.9 percent, vs. 7.8 percent nationally.

“In the third quarter, the area’s average home price climbed 3.1 percent from the previous quarter and 6.2 percent from a year earlier to $410,839, according to the most recent report from real estate research firm Delta Associates.

“Prices remained highest in the District, Alexandria and Arlington County, rising 8 percent in the quarter from a year earlier to $514,073, the report says.

“The biggest yearly price gains were in the outer suburbs of Prince William, Loudoun and Frederick counties, where average prices jumped 9.4 percent year-over-year to $327,108.

“In the region’s inner ring – Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax – prices increased 4.7 percent to $414,176.

“But the weakest links were in the Maryland suburbs. Third-quarter prices fell 11.4 percent in Prince George’s and 8.5 percent in Frederick County from a year ago.

“The report concludes that the Northern Virginia suburbs are recovering earlier than their Maryland neighbors because job growth there has been stronger and faster, boosting demand for housing. Northern Virginia’s housing market also eroded earlier in the downturn and is therefore experiencing the “first-in, first-out” effect, the report says.

The price difference
“John McClain, deputy director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, said Maryland’s troubles may soon be overcome given that home prices there never fell as sharply as they did in Northern Virginia.

“The average price dropped about 32 percent in Northern Virginia from September 2007 through September 2008, compared with about 10 percent in Maryland, McClain said.

“Against that backdrop, McClain expects Prince George’s to follow the same path as Prince William. Both counties were clobbered by foreclosures after the housing bust, albeit at different times, and their home values plummeted. When prices dropped low enough in Prince William, bargain-hunters started snapping up the deals, sales bounced back and prices eventually followed.

“There may be more than timing to explain the different experiences, however.

“The housing market in both counties took off during the boom years for slightly different reasons, said economist Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group.

“Prince William’s proximity to job centers in the District and the Dulles Corridor, plus Northern Virginia’s free-market approach to development, helped lure potential buyers who were priced out of closer-in suburbs when the housing market sizzled, Basu said. To meet demand, construction took off, aided by the county’s ample supply of land.

“In Prince George’s, a desire among public policymakers to upgrade the county’s housing stock and cater to upwardly mobile professionals helped fuel development, although Maryland policies generally had a more anti-growth leaning, he said.

“Both counties attracted a huge concentration of buyers who took out subprime loans, many of them with adjustable interest rates. When those loans reset, borrowers’ monthly payments shot up to unaffordable levels, and many lost their homes. As prices eroded, they could not sell or refinance their way out of trouble.

“But clearing out the foreclosures took far longer in Maryland, which, unlike Virginia, requires some court intervention in approving the foreclosure paperwork. Maryland also passed laws slowing the foreclosure process.

” ‘Because there has been relatively less government involvement in the commonwealth, the market’s adjustment has probably been more rapid than in Maryland,’ Basu said. ‘The adjustment in Prince William, though more jarring, has been more rapid.’

“As evidence of that rapid adjustment, the inventory of foreclosed properties made up about 84 percent of total sales in Prince William in January 2009, according to a county official. They were down to 40 percent by the end of that year.

” ‘Prince George’s may have been better off if it had worked through the foreclosures earlier,’ said McClain, of GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis. ‘Prince William got hit with the foreclosures immediately and bang, the bottom fell out and then prices started climbing.’

“But sales are starting to pick up in Prince George’s, McClain said. They were up nearly 22 percent from January through November compared with the same period a year earlier.  ‘That’s the first sign that things are slowly getting back on track. . . . Some parts of the region are in a different stage of recovery than others.’

“In fact, if Prince William and Prince George’s were out of the mix, the Washington region would be looking far more stable than it is, McClain said.

“But there are risks ahead for the local housing market.

“Sellers could become overconfident and stall sales. The most recent price statistics about the Washington area are exactly what sellers have been waiting for – a reason to resist reducing their asking prices, said Marc McGee, former general manager of Pardoe Real Estate.

” ‘Sellers, of course, have been long-suffering, and they by-and-large feel, with some justification, that they were unfairly treated by the market,’ said McGee, now the business development director at the real estate search engine HotPads.com. ‘But the reality remains that it’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it.’

Federal pay factor
“A recently enacted two-year pay freeze for federal workers could cast a pall over area sales going forward, though the effects are not likely to be disastrous, said Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

“But if the federal government cuts back on private defense contractors, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates proposed in August, that’s a ‘much bigger deal,’ because defense contracting jobs are more than double the size of the federal payroll, Fuller said.

“Another possible stumbling block for the housing market – nationally and locally – may be mortgage interest rates.

“Rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.17 percent in mid-November, the lowest level since Freddie Mac started tracking the figures in 1971. But they’ve been higher since then, creating some angst about how that will affect home purchases and refinancings.

“Freddie Mac economists predict that rates will stay below 5 percent in 2011. But the Mortgage Bankers Association expects rates to rise to 5.5 percent by year’s end. The MBA predicts that total mortgage originations will drop to $967 billion in 2011, the lowest level since 1997, mainly because of a sharp drop in refinancings.

“While refinancing made up 69 percent of all mortgage originations last year, that share should dwindle to 36 percent this year and 24 percent in 2012 as the economy strengthens and rates climb above the 6 percent mark, the group estimated.

“Employment trends will most likely outweigh interest rates, anyway.

” ‘I don’t anticipate home values to go anywhere broadly speaking, but with job creation, we will begin to see that home sales will get nice support from the recovering economy,’ said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. ‘Things are shaping up a little better for 2011.’ “

2007-10 County Citizen Surveys (biennial after 2010)

PWC_SurveySumary2010 | PWC_SurveyComparison09_10 | full text pdf

PWC_SurveySummary2009 | 2009-10 Comparison | full text PDF

PWC_SurveySummary2008

2007 County Citizens Survey (full text)

2007 Citizen Survey: PW citizens “generally dissatisfied with the coordination of development and roads, growth in the county, and planning and land use”
(“Supervisors Get Survey Results” by Keith Walker, Potomac News, 9 Aug 2007)

The top seven:
Citizen satisfaction with:
The bottom seven:
Citizen satisfaction with:
— Service from Library Staff  (98.9%)
— Emergency Medical Rescue (98.5%)
— Fire Fighting in Respondent’s Area (988.4%)
— Security in Courthouse (97.3%)
— Landfill (96.0%)
— Convenience of Registering to Vote ( 994.9%)
— Assistance from 911 Operator (94.6%) <
— Coordination of Development with Road Systems (35.5%)
— Rate of PWC Growth (44.0%)
— Ease of Travel in PWC (46.9%)
— Land Use Planning and Development (47.5%)
— Appearance of Illegal Signs along Major Roads (49.2%)
— County Efforts to Preserve Open Space (51.5%)
— Public Transportation in PWC (57.0%)
According to the executive summary of the 2007 County Citizens Survey (full text):   1. “In general, people are least satisfied with development and transportation issues, suggesting that these areas are in need of improvement despite the significant progress with the ease of travel of getting around within Prince William County.”  2. In the “Long-Term Trends” section,  “satisfaction with the job the County is doing in planning how land will be used and developed is down approximately 6 percentage points from 1993.”  3. Again from the “Long-Term Trends” section, “satisfaction with the County’s value for tax dollars is up more than 15 points since 1993.”

“Official: Vint Hill lights may hinder traffic”

by Dan Roem, The Gainesville Times

2 September 2010,  pp. A1, A5

“The development of Patriot High School off Kettle Run Road in Nokesville is raising concerns about the impact of two new traffic lights on Vint Hill Road.

“Prince William County Board of Supervisor Wally Covington (R-Brentsville) said Monday that he plans to ask the county’s Department of Transportation to study the intersections of Vint Hill Road with Sudley Manor Drive and with Kettle Run Road,

” ‘I’m expecting some very large backups on Vint Hill Road,’ said Covington, adding that he drives the road daily. ‘The stoplights there are going to put a fair amount of pressure on those roads.’

“Covington said he was not sure about the exact date that the lights are set to be activated, though he did hear that they are likely to start functioning before Patriot opens in late summer 2011. He mentioned that he supports the lights for child safety but he said he would still like traffic alternatives to alleviate congestion.

“The second-term supervisor also said he expects Fauquier residents ‘are going to be the majority of commuter traffic’ affected by the lights.

” ‘It’s going to change the way people deal with that corridor,’ said Covington.

” ‘We’ve got a lot of work that’s coming out of the (Route) 215 area,’ said Fauquier County Supervisor Raymond Graham (R-Cedar Run). ‘We’re working on (U.S.) 29, we’re working on the Vint Hill Parkway … We’ve always been supportive of improving (Route) 215 from Vint Hill … to Route 28.’

“Commuters heading westbound from U.S. 28 can potentially avoid the lights by either taking Linton Hall Road to the north or Fauquier Drive Dumfries Road to the south.

“Eventually, further west, Rollins Ford Road is due to be extended to connect Linton Hall Road and Vint Hill Road.

“Paving and partial widening are likely to be completed on Glenkirk Road be the end of October [2010], according to Covington. That would make three roads connecting Vint Hill and Linton Hall.

“However, even after the improvements, Glenkirk will still not be the most ideal road for heavy commuting as it passes an elementary school and is still quite windy.

” ‘I don’t think it’s a long-term solution to anything,’ said Covington.  ‘(It’s) not a transportation solution for the volume of traffic that’s coming in from Faquier.’

“Another problem for Vint Hill Road commuters, as Covington mentioned, will be the frequent bus stops along the road. Because Vint Hill runs along the Rural Crescent, houses are more spread out so there are no group bus stops where a large number of children get on and off the bus together.

” ‘You have a lot of bus stops on Vint Hill Road (coupled) with those lights and you’re going to have a lot of traffic on that road,’ said Covington, calling the scenario a ‘weakness’ for roads within the Rural Crescent.

“According to Graham, Fauquier’s elected officials have no problem ‘four-laning’ Vint Hill Road, ‘but unfortunately, the majority of the road is in Prince William County. That’s the nature of the beast. We’re in a totally different region than Prince William as far as VDOT is concerned,’ he said.

“Covington and Graham disagree on one way to alleviate congestion along Vint Hill Road. Covington supports the creation of the Buckland Bypass to Gainesville and widening part of Vint Hill Road out to four lanes near U.S. 29.

” ‘It’s my position that we need to do both,’ said Covington. ‘On the Fauquier side, there needs to be a plan that comes together with Prince William that (figures out) how we’re going to connect with Vint Hill.’

“Graham says he objects to the Buckland Bypass because it would run through Fauquier farms.

” ‘It helps him bypass something they created which is Gainesville,’ said Graham. He later added, ‘It was Prince William that created the debacle.’

“The Fauquier side of Vint Hill Road is slated to, over time, double in size once it is completely developed, according to Graham. He explained that there are around about 3,000 residents there now.

“He blamed the General Assembly for inadequate proffer laws, which means less money coming into Fauquier’s coffers out of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for pushing a proffer system that he said ‘ties everyone’s hands up.’

“Covington and Graham presented different views on Fauquier’s contribution to growth and development in the area.

” ‘Fauquier has put a lot of growth there and a lot of growth in New Baltimore,’ said Covington. ‘They’ve done virtually nothing to mitigate or to plan for the growth (and are) relying on us.’

“Graham disagreed.

” ‘We’re working on a comprehensive plan,’ he said, adding that the county is studying potential improvements for Vint Hill Road, Route 28 and U.S. 29. ‘We’re doing a traffic count right now to check on our flow of traffic.’

“He mentioned the development of the Vint Hill parkway and widening of Dumfries Road in one area as some of the changes being made to the general corridor. Dumfries Road is set to eventually be widened section-by-section from U.S. 29 in the west to U.S. 28 in the east.

” ‘Again, that’s money and we use a significant amount of our money to buy into the cost-share plan with VDOT to improve that,’ said Graham.

“Unlike Prince William County, Fauquier does not fund road improvements through voter-approved building. The widening of Linton Hall Road, for example, was approved and paid for by Prince William County voters and taxpayers.

“That said, counties surrounding Fauquier are growing at faster rates that Fauquier, meaning commuters for Culpeper and Madison counties are driving through Fauquier on their way to Prince William, creating even more congestion from further away.

“In the long run, that will negatively affect Vint Hill Road, according to Covington.

” ‘(That will) continue to add traffic to that road and it’s not going to be able to sustain the level of housing in Fauquier that’s going to influence it,’ said Covington. ‘At some point, we’re going to have to deal with it.’ ”


 

Covington’s personal financial disclosure forms reveal extensive local real estate interests (company investments and land), including land he owns in Prince William County, off Vint Hill Road in the path of residential development he supports:   2012  |  2013  |  2014    |    County link to all supervisor financial disclosure forms

Aerial

Satellite picture of Pioneer Drive off Vint Hill Rd. (one place where Covington owns land) and approaching residential development

“Some 78 speakers help convince supervisors to vote ‘no’ on paving facility”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

6 August 2010, pp 9-10

“After more than two hours of comment from 78 residents, the special use permit (SUP) requested by Finley Asphalt and Sealing, Inc., to build an asphalt plant on Hornbaker Road near Innovation was turned down unanimously by Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting in McCoart Government Center off Prince William Parkway.

“Both the county’s planning staff and its planning commission had recommended approval of the application.

“In making the motion to deny the application, Wally Covington, (R-Brentsville), commented, ‘It wasn’t an easy decision.’ He explained the county is number 17 in job growth in the nation, and has been number one in the state for the past nine years, and that the proposed plant ‘is inconsistent with long-range planning’ and a more intense use of the site.

“Covington said granting the SUP ‘would prioritize a non-targeted industry and is against economic development.’  He added that some of the uses permitted on the 8.8-acre sire by right could be acceptable.

“During the hearing, Gifford Hampshire, Finley’s attorney, advised permitted by–right uses include an industrial bakery, a truck or bus terminal, brick manufacturing, recycling and truck lots. Hampshire also
asserted there already are two asphalt facilities in the Innovation sector plan, and that there have been no complaints regarding them.

“The SUP site is at 9514 Hornbaker Rd., about 450 feet south of the Industrial Road/Hornbaker Road intersection. The tract is zoned industrial transportation (M/T), is in the airport safety overlay district and is termed industrial employment (EI) on the county’s comprehensive land use plan.

“Steve Griffin, county planning director, noted the plant would be at the edge of the EI area and is a ‘more intense use’ next to Innovation.

“A county report shows the property is surrounded by Broad Run Industrial Park on the north and west. On the east across Hornbaker Road and on the south are vacant portions of Innovation zoned planned business development (PBD). There is a single-family dwelling about 275 feet to the south.

“Griffin told the meeting the plant would mix liquid asphalt cement with aggregates such as gravel to produce paving material. The paving material then would be trucked to job sites.

“The planning director explained the county’s economic development department was concerned with the application because the site is near Innovation. He added he didn’t know owners of property at Innovation were worried about the asphalt plant until after the planning commission heard the case last May.

“Hampshire told supervisors the SUP application had been improved since it first was submitted a year ago. He said the use ‘is consistent with zoning and the comprehensive plan,’ is less intense than uses in the center of the district and that there ‘would be no odor or impact’ from the plant.

“Eric Finley, the applicant, explained he has been looking for three years to expand his plant, which ‘provides affordable paving for small businesses.’  He estimated $2.3 million in revenue over the next 5 years and added he would bring in over 100 new jobs.

“Finley reported he’d ‘paid a premium price’ for the proposed plant location. After the planning commission hearing, he claimed a ‘lot of bad information’ was circulated about his proposal.

” ‘So we deferred. We learned we need to communicate and work with the public. Now we have a better plan for a cleaner, greener facility,’ Finley added.

“A June 2, 2009 public hearing for Finley before supervisors was postponed indefinitely. That same month, GRR Land of Virginia withdrew its zoning application for an asphalt and concrete plant at 9435 Contractor’s Ct. in Broad Run Industrial Park.

“A citizens’ meeting June 3, 2009 drew more than 100 Bristow area residents who spoke against both Finley’s and GRR’s plans. They contended one of the plants would be a half-mile from Victory Elementary School and a quarter mile from Saybrooke subdivison. The second would be a mile from the school and a half-mile from Saybrooke. Residents mentioned concerns with health, the environment and a possible decline in property values.

“Realtor Barry Wright told the July 27 session he would expect no decline in property values in residences near the Finley operation. He said Heritage Hunt is near a similar plant, and there have been no problems.

“Corey Stewart, board chairman, limited to one minute the time each of those who spoke at the public hearing could have. Of the 78 who spoke, 45 were against the SUP and 33 were for it.

“Several owners or representatives from Innovation addressed the hearing, including John Schofield, president of Innovation Owners’ Association. He contended that when the sector plan was drawn up for the area, ‘the intense uses were to be in the interior.’ He said the business park and the asphalt plant ‘are two very incompatible uses.’  He added his association was unaware the site was being proposed for an intense use and was against it.

“Others who spoke from Innovation against the SUP include Kevin Donahue, Mark Christopher, Michael Armm and Jim Coakley.

“Residents speaking against the SUP included Mary Ann and Ashleigh Towne and David Randall, all from Saybrooke; Alexander Kot, leader of Bristow Opposition; Albert Hammond and Laura Arnold, both of Victory Lakes; Tamara and Mike Denegris, both of Victory Lakes; Kimberly Kreswick, a professor at George Mason University, and Jennifer Baucom, Braemar.

“Also voicing objections were Timothy Capps, Bristow; Julian Russell; Kim Tallia, Victory Lakes; Christine Rosenfield, Victory Lakes; Richard Martin, a small buisness owner; Mike Rosenfield. Victory Lakes; Johnatan Towne, a highschool student worried about increased traffic; Jacqueline Davidson, Braemar; Drew Richards. Saybrooke, and Chris Hobbs.

“Addressing the public hearing in favor of the SUP were Pauline Davis, Thomas Jacoby from Westridge; Ron Vannoy of Kettle Run Road; Joe Dragp; Andy Harper, Manassas Park; Dick Leukins, Gainsville; Coleman Childress Manassas; Mark Weaver Bethlehem Road; Betty Duley, Featherbed Lane; Chris Bates, Braemar; Dan Sawyer. Brentsville District, and Mark Presgraves, who has a plumbing buisness in Manassas.

“Others who spoke for granting the SUP included Michael Sawyer, Mountain Road; Michael Wolfrey; New Bristoe Village; Maggie Matthews; Amanda Napolitano; Dan Snow; Sam Snow; Kevin Johnson, Braemar; Chris Goodman; Ed Watkins, Yates Ford Road; James Pollen; Justin Wolfrey; Jim Webber and former Gainesville supervisor Ed Wilbourn.

“Wilbourn pointed out Innovation has no impact on nearby buisnesses, and that other buisnesses do not interfere Innovation. He contended Finley’s proposal has been the victim of a lot of misinformation.

” ‘This is not an asphalt plan. It’s a mixing facility. It meets all the requirements,’ he added.”

E-mail notices to public / exchanges with Board of Supervisors 2-4 Aug 2010

by Bob Pugh and Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

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

Dear Mr. Stephenson:

I want to thank you for your email regarding the Avendale development proposal in Prince William County.  I appreciate your taking the time to write to me.

As you may know, last night the Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 3 to approve both the Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) and rezoning for the Avendale proposal.  I voted against the proposal, along with Supervisors Stirrup and Principi.  Unfortunately, the remaining five board members voted to support the project.

Please know that your input was invaluable to me as I considered this matter.  Although we did not prevail on this particular issue, I hope you will continue to contact me in the future with your comments, ideas and concerns.

Again, thank you for contacting me and I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Sincerely, Mike (4 August 2010)

Michael C. May
Occoquan District Supervisor
2241-B Tackett’s Mill Drive
Woodbridge, Virginia 22192
(703) 792-4643 (phone)
(703) 792-4833 (fax)


From: Ralph Stephenson
Sent: Monday, August 02, 2010 10:56 PM
To: Ralph Stephenson
Cc: BOCS
Subject: Further on Avendale, Including Fiscal Impact Analysis & Dirty Tricks by Supporters

I can scarcely believe it myself, but unfortunately, what Bob Pugh, a friend of mine, says below is true.  You can check it out for yourself [right now at the Gainesville Grizzlies website.]

I urge Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Covington, if they were not a part of this disgrace, to do the following at tomorrow’s BOCS meeting at 7:30 pm:   thoroughly dissassociate themselves from it, apologize to the parents and children of the Gainesville Grizzlies, on behalf of the citizens of Prince William County, for the deception to which they have fallen victim, and explain to them what Avendale really is:  a housing development supported by Brookfield Homes, its employees, and the politicians who rely on its political campaign contributions — not a plan to build four football fields.

If Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Covington are unwilling to right this wrong, which brings our county’s politics to a new low and makes a mockery of its democratic institutions, then I see no conclusion that can be drawn other than that they’re a part of this scandal.
Ralph Stephenson


From: Bob Pugh
Sent:
Monday, August 02, 2010 11:09 AM
To:cstewart@pwcgov.org‘; ‘wcovington@pwcgov.org‘; ‘mnohe@pwcgov.org‘; ‘mcaddigan@pwcgov.org‘; ‘gainesville@pwcgov.org‘; ‘jjenkins@pwcgov.org‘; ‘mcmay@pwcgov.org‘; ‘fprincipi@pwcgov.org
Subject: Avendale Vote Tomorrow

Dear Members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors:

I learned with much disappointment that Chairman Stewart has put the Avendale Comprehensive Plan amendment and rezoning back on the Board’s agenda during the height of the summer vacation season and with less than a week’s notice to the community at large.  It does not require membership in Mensa to understand that this is an effort on his part, and on the part of Supervisor Covington and Mike Lubeley [of Brookfield Homes] to railroad through the Board a measure that benefits only them, their personal financial interests, their campaign contributors and their clients.

We are all familiar with the economic, fiscal, education, transportation and development problems associated with this land use proposal.  Ralph Stephenson sent you a message earlier today reminding you of those problems.  I am also attaching here the analysis of Avendale I prepared last January.  Therefore, I will not repeat those arguments in this message.

Instead, I will focus on the sleaziest political maneuver I have ever seen in Prince William County.  Namely, that is the exploitation of the unsuspecting children and their families from the Gainesville Grizzlies.  Promising four footballs fields in exchange for children parading through Citizens Time and the McCoart Building goes beyond the levels of unethical behavior the community has come to expect from Stewart, Covington and Lubeley.

The Grizzlies should get their football fields.  However, funding them through the General Fund and the Park Authority’s budget would be vastly less costly for Prince William Countytaxpayers than using them as a bribe to trick families into endorsing a development with huge negative fiscal impacts.

Some of us have been reaching out to members of the Grizzlies over the weekend but, as Supervisors Stewart and Covington planned, will likely not be able to speak to enough of them to change the course of the abominable spectacle planned for Tuesday.

Rest assured, however, that they will understand how they have been used by Election Day in 2011.

Most of you do not have your hands dirtied by this shameful behavior – yet.  You will have an opportunity to vote to disassociate yourselves from it and vote to oppose Avendale tomorrow.

To my fellow Republicans on the Board (apart from Stewart and Covington) please consider the future and the credibility of our Party.  This sort of closed-door, back-room conniving on behalf of wealthy special interests against the interests of the community is precisely the image we need to avoid to win elections in the future.  I know that the rest of you can rise above it.

Please vote tomorrow not only in the interest of the economic and financial future of Prince William County, but also for common decency and oppose Avendale.

Thank you.

Bob Pugh
Brentstville District


On 8/2/2010 6:44 AM, Ralph Stephenson wrote:

All:  Prince William Board of County Supervisors [BOCS] Chairman Corey Stewart and Brentsville District Supervisor Wally Covington (most of you live in Brentsville District) are joining forces to try to push the Avendale residential development project through this Tuesday evening, 3 August, with only a few days’ public notice, while many of their constituents are on vacation or otherwise occupied with summer activities.

Chairman Stewart, who used to support reasonable residential development and land use polices, has now, just like his predecessor Sean Connaughton, turned his back on all that as he plans to become Virginia’s lieutenant governor, seeking to help finance his lieutenant governor campaign with residential developer money.  Brentsville District Supervisor Covington is a big county landowner with lots of big landowner friends and relatives, and he has always supported virtually all residential developer proposals because of their potential to greatly enrich him and/or his big landowner friends and relatives and to help fund his re-election campaigns.

Chairman Stewart and Supervisor Covington are trying to push Avendale through, despite the objections that many of you expressed to them several months ago about this  proposal when it came to the Board of Supervisors.  You may recall that at that time it was quickly withdrawn before a vote could be taken because it didn’t have the five (out of eight) BOCS votes needed to pass it.  Chairman Stewart even recently tried surreptitiously to get the Prince William County School Board to endorse Avendale to give it momentum, but the Board, which knows that this proposal will further overcrowd county schools, refused to go along.

We strongly urge you to write to the BOCS cc address above to show your opposition to this plan.  Better yet, please come Tuesday, 3 Aug at 7:30 pm to speak against this proposal during Citizens Time.  (Chairman Stewart has closed to the public the actual Avendale hearing that night.)   Directions to the McCoart Building, where you can speak against this proposal during Citizens Time at 7:30 pm, are included at the bottom of this e-mail.  Please be there by 7:15 pm latest to sign up to speak.  I intend to be there earlier, and can at that time sign in anyone who wants to speak; just let me know.

While Mr. Covington and Mr. Stewart may need Avendale to enrich themselves and their cronies or help them attract campaign funds, ordinary citizens and taxpayers do not.

In fact, here’s how Avendale will harm ordinary taxpayers and citizens:

  1. Avendale will be inside the Rural Crescent, which includes land south of Vint Hill Rd., and is, by county policy, supposed to be off-limits to development, the last green belt, the last rural area left in beautiful (or soon-to-be formerly beautiful?) Prince William County.
  2. The rules for Avendale that the county is being asked to approve will allow at least 500 homes to ultimately be built on the land.  In other words, 1,500 more people (the county average is 3 per home) and probably about 1,000 more cars at the corner of 28 and Vint Hill Rd.  More residential development leads to more traffic congestion.  And this is happening just after the Linton Hall corridor was declared the worst commute in the country by Fortune magazine.
  3. More residential development leads to more overcrowding, which is already at record levels, in western county schools.
  4. More residential development will further damage the county tax base.  Only the highest-end homes in the county have a net positive effect on county tax revenues.  The rest cost more (in terms of county services — police, fire, schools, roads, etc) than they pay in taxes.  So every time the county approves more residential housing it is, in effect, approving indirect taxpayer subsidies to developers.
  5. More residential development, particularly in light of the housing surplus that currently exists in the county, including thousands of foreclosed and other vacant homes, will further reduce the property values of existing homes.

My experience with land issues in this county in recent years suggest to me that if Avendale is not defeated, the flood gates will begin to open and the western end of the county will be subject yet again to out-of-control residential development, which benefits only big landowners and residential developers and harms everyone else. Per Chairman of the Prince William County Planning Commission Gary Friedman, the county already has a backlog of approximately 40,000 approved-but-not-yet built houses.  So Avendale is not in any way necessary.  Avendale is sponsored by Brookfield Homes, the same California developer that tried in 2005-06 to build the 7,000-home  Brentswood project behind the Nissan Pavilion (now “Jiffy Lube Live”), but was prevented from doing so by a public uproar over the project.

It’s ironic that Avendale is being brought up for discussion at the very time that the U.S. is struggling to recover from its  worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis brought on by, among other things:  massive housing oversupply (probably the single biggest cause); political shenanigans by local and federal government officials allied to the housing industry, trying to keep demand artificially high to match the artificially high housing supply; and dishonest and predatory lending practices by many mortgage lenders to people who couldn’t afford the homes they were being sold, as well as the financially toxic effect of those millions of now-non-performing (bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors.

Please spread the word to your friends and neighbors.

When:  Tuesday 3 Aug @ 7:30 pm (come a little earlier to sign up to speak)
Where: McCoart Admin. Building, 1 County Complex Court, PWC, VA 22192
It is near the intersection of the PWC Parkway and Hoadly Road
Directions:
1. From Sudley Manor Dr go
2. Southbound on Dumfries Rd/VA-234 (10 miles)
3. Turn left at Hoadly Rd (4.7 miles)
4. Slight right toward Prince William Pkwy (0.4 miles)
5. Turn left at County Complex Ct (go left again to park)

Note:  If you do not want to receive such messages in the future, please let me know.   Ralph Stephenson

“Developers Try Again in PWC”

by Greg Latique from “Black Velvet Bruce Li” blog that discusses “Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park politics”

2 August 2010

“The Gainesville Grizzlies recently sent out a call to parents to join a road trip to the August 3rd Board of County Supervisors meeting to tailgate and lobby in support of a zoning application creating more playing fields in Bristow. What was omitted from the email was notification that the zoning application is the Avendale development and if you lobby in support of the zoning application you are asking the BOCS to approve the Avendale development.

“What is Avendale? Avendale is a housing development proposed by Brookfield Homes which will bring from 300 – 500 more homes to the Bristow area. The development will be located behind the Harris Teeter on the Vint Hill Road side of the intersection of Vint Hill Road and Route 28. The playing fields the Grizzlies want you to support are 17 acres included in the area to be developed that Brookfield has offered to ‘give’ to the PWC park authority if the BOCS approves the Avendale development.

“Because of increased traffic resulting from the development, Vint Hill Road will have to be shifted more than a mile south down Route 28 and will have to be widened from 2 to 4 lanes. Brookfield homes has offered to pay for half of a portion of the realignment and widening. The rest of the funds – roughly 2/3 of the cost to shift and widen Vint Hill Road from Route 28 to Sudley Manor Drive – will have to be paid for by local taxpayers. The 6 year transportation plan for PWC does not include any funds for shifting and widening Vint Hill Road. That means that construction on the development will begin but there won’t be any improvements to local roadways until 2014 or 2015 at the earliest, assuming the county has the money to fund widening and shifting Vint Hill Road at that time. So we’ll get a new development but we won’t get the roads to manage the additional traffic resulting from the new development for a number of years.

“Those roads that there’s no money to build and that won’t be built for many years include the roads needed to access the ‘playing fields.’ The 17 acres Brookfield has ‘offered’ as parkland are undeveloped. There are no roads to access the space and there are no services like electricity or water available on the site. The park authority won’t turn the offered land down, but has no plans to develop the site as a park and has no funds to do it.

“Additionally, the ‘donation’ isn’t designated as football or playing fields. Brookfield has only offered to ‘give’ the land to the park authority. The park authority can do whatever it wants with the land – including keeping it as woodland. In fact, the 17 acres Brookfield will be ‘donating’ as parkland will still be available and could be designated parkland if the zoning application is rejected.

“Approving this development will cost all of us in increased taxes. We, the taxpayers, will have to provide road improvements, additional fire and rescue personnel to cover the area, and will have to fund the construction of more schools.

“We all know that more playing fields are needed in the county. The county could simply re-zone those 17 acres as parkland at a significantly lower cost than funding all the increases in services necessary to support a new 300 – 500 home development.

“Don’t be fooled by hollow promises from Brookfield homes. It will be years before the fields are opened, assuming the land is even used for playing fields. In the meantime you’ll be paying more in taxes, dealing with more traffic, and still driving to 8 am games in Alexandria.”

Official Information from 2008 County Website:

Centers of Commerce/Community (2008)

“Wellington, Yorkshire areas to be studied under comp plan changes adopted Feb. 2”

by Rose Murphy,Bull Run Observer

12 February 2010, pp. 47-48

“Amid a confusing flurry of last-minute changes, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Feb. 2 voted to approve the land use chapter of the county’s comprehensive plan.

“Mike May, who represents, Occoquan District on the panel, cast the only nay vote. He said he favored a vote on each of the alterations, adding he couldn’t back some of the amendments, so he would vote against the proposal.

“The update to the transportation chapter received unanimous board approval. The panel agreed to May’s change, limiting Old Bridge Road to four lanes from Colby Drive to Prince William County Parkway. The county’s department of transportation wanted it six lanes.

“Corey Stewart, board chairman, commented, ‘Old Bridge is a residential road. If it were expanded to six lanes, it would become a highway. Traffic should be on Prince William Parkway.’

“The chairman noted work on the land use and transportation chapters has been going on since Feb. 7, 2007. Virginia code requires the comprehensive plan be reviewed every five years to see if updating is needed. The county met the deadline for a technical update two years ago.

“During the past three years, the Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC), a citizen group appointed by supervisors, presented its version of the land use chapter. This was followed by separate versions of the chapter from the county’s planning commission and planning staff.

“LUAC recommended setting up 19 centers of community and six centers of commerce throughout the county. The change accepted by supervisors Feb. 2 has three centers of commerce and one center of community, according to David McGettigan of the planning department. Centers of Commerce will be at Innovation, north Woodridge and Potomac Town Center. The center of community will be in Triangle.

“The board also agreed to two study areas, Yorkshire and the Wellington Road area.  The Wellington Road area, zoned heavy industry, could become a town center.

“The new changes to the land use chapter provide for lighted ballfields throughout the county without a public facilities review (PFR). Lights will have to be turned off within a half hour of the end of a game, McGettigan explained.

“At the February 2 meeting, supervisors approved unanimously a resolution that no property in the Linton Hall area may be rezoned for residential uses until two new elementary schools and a high school are built and open for use, and sites for another elementary school and another middle school have been acquired.

“Stewart’s land use amendments approved by the board say that buffers and setbacks along the parkway from Hoadly Road to Liberia Avenue and along Davis Ford Road must be established as part of any rezoning or special use permit (SUP) in order to protect the semirural appearance of both corridors.

“Marty Nohe, Coles District representative, was not successful with his amendments altering the semirural residential (SRR) classification in the land use chapter. He represents Coles District, home of most of the county’s SRR land.

“Supervisors voted to keep requirements for SRR the same as the 2008 comprehensive plan, which dictates one home per 2.5 acres. The SRR classification is meant to provide areas of large lot development as transition between the rural crescent and the development area.

“Nohe’s changes, first introduced at the January 19 board meeting, included single-family homes with individual single lots of a gross acre or greater. If more than one home were constructed, the average density would not exceed one unit per 2.5 acres, less the ER areas, unless the homes were clustered. With clustered homes, density would be calculated on the gross density of the project.

“Clustered development would result in density of one dwelling per 2.5 acres, and minimum lot sizes of one acre, but lots could range from a half acre to one acre to allow public natural resource facilities, Nohe contended.

“Stewart said February 3 he did not want to alter the existing SRR rules because he didn’t know how Nohe’s changes ‘would be interpreted in the future.’  He added, “the concepts of clustering could mean cut-and-fill” construction in the SRR, which the county has been able to avoid thus far.

” ‘With clustering, someone has sold the county a bill of goods,’ Steward opined.

“Nohe also wanted to see lot sizes limited to a minimum of five acres within 500 feet of the Occoquan Reservoir. His proposal for an Occoquan Reservoir protection area is better suited for inclusion in the comp plan’s environmental chapter, Stewart contended. The environmental chapter will be considered next by the board.

“The board also decided to approve out-of-turn comprehensive plan amendments (CPA) with concurrent rezoning applications. Existing policy provided that CPAs could be submitted only once a year in January.

“The chairman also had changes approved for the community employment center (CEC), regional employment center (REC), and regional commercial center (RCC) classifications. He added to each classification, ‘development shall also occur according to a phasing plan that must ensure that office, employment and lodging uses are always the primary uses within the area rezoned.’  In each category, drive-in and drive-through uses are discouraged, and residential uses are limited to no more than 25 percent of the total gross floor area of the project.

“Purpose of the CEC classification is to provide areas of low- to mid-rise offices, including government offices and especially county offices, ‘research and development, lodging and mixed use projects planned and developed in a comprehensive and coordinated way.’

“CEC projects would be at or near intersections of principal arterials or major collector roads or commercial rail stations. Residential uses will be secondary uses.

“In CEC areas, single-family attached or multi-family housing, including housing for the elderly, is allowed. Density will be six to 12 units a gross acre, minus any environmental resource (ER) areas.

“REC areas will be near and have good access to interstate highways. Main REC uses are mid-rise and/or high-rise office, including government and county offices, research and development uses and lodging or mixed-use projects.

“In REC areas, there will be multi-family housing at a density of 16 to 30 dwelling units per acre, less the ER.

“RCC areas will be near interstate highways and will be large-scale retail projects serving regional rather than a local market. Included will be regional malls, mixed-use projects and large single-user retail buildings.

“In RCC, shared or structured parking is encouraged. Housing will be multifamily with a density of 16 to 30 units per gross acre, less ER.

“Stewart explained February 3 that in mixed-use areas, the development community wanted the mix to change from 75 percent commercial and 25 percent residential to 60 percent commercial and 40 percent residential. That proposal did not pass.

“The chairman said the comp plan revisions encourage more development like Stonebridge, where Wegmans is in eastern Prince William County.

” ‘This is a mixture of retail, office and residential, and we want more of that,’ Stewart indicated.

“The developmental community also failed to get its proposal for no phasing, which would mean that, in a mixed-use project, all the residential or retail could be built first. With phasing, commercial must be the dominant use, Stewart remarked.

“The chairman added the land use chapter revisions ‘do not increase the number of residences by one house, maintain the SRR, add buffers along the parkway and Davis Ford Road and keep the Rural Crescent. We’ve made some good changes, and limited residential density.’ “

Why fight local political battles and corruption?

by Ralph Stephenson, PWCBG

3 February 2010

Regarding your question tonight about whether it makes any difference (for us to send e-mails and speak at the BOCs and Planning Commision meetings, etc), that’s a very fair question to ask.  And I really didn’t give it an answer at the time, at least not a very good one.  [Name withheld],  thank you very much for coming tonight and for all you’ve done and are continuing to do to spread the word.  It’s good to see people of virtue and principle involved in the local community; the community desperately needs their (your) influence.

Upon reflection, I would answer it in several ways, any one of which is enough for me.  Of course, I don’t necessarily expect any one of these reasons alone to be enough for others who may make better use of their time than politics.  (I’m only half-joking when I say that because I really do not like politics.  I engage in it because I feel compelled to do so — probably largely because of the “second” item below.)

First, one can give what amounts to an almost-ascetic, martyr-like response to your question:  It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, as long as we stand for what is right, particularly in things that matter such as quality of life for us and our children (schools, roads/traffic, natural beauty), economic issues (taxes for individuals, individual property values, the county’s financial and economic health), and trying to clean up Dodge so we don’t have to live in a place that is overrun with political corruption and be bullied by political machines that benefit a few and swindle everyone else.  (Sometimes this one works for me when I feel like I’m fighting necessary but lonely battles.)

Second, one can, like Lincoln, argue that we, too, are dirtied and sullied when we don’t protest against public evils that are close at hand and accessible to us — and that we thus might be able to stop, slow, or mitigate if we only tried.

Third, and this one, like the second one just above, is very compelling to me:  You often do win (see paragraphs below for explanation of why), and I very much like to win victories in what I think are worthy and important causes.  : )  (A hard-fought victory against difficult odds, as in Brentswood, is one of the best feelings you can have.)  See the last sentence of the second paragraph that I’ve forwarded below from Michelle Trenum.  Her count is 10 victories, 1 loss.  Since Brentswood in early 2006, I count all victories and no defeats, except for one half-win, half-loss (let’s call it a draw) on an attempt by the Board of Supervisors to make incursions into the Rural Crescent in Dec 2007.   My experience has been that before the loose citizens alliance to fight this sort of nonsense formed in early 2006 during Brentswood, it was one loss after another in western PW county — mostly losses, with only a few (and sometimes very temporary) victories, typically when a critical mass of people got very angry just before an election.

Most politicians love the backroom deal where there’s no transparency, no public input, no awareness, just the opportunity for them to further their ambition and vanity and sometimes line their pockets.  And most politics in most places is practiced that way.  Politicians get away with it because of people’s apathy or fear of getting involved.  But when you smoke politicians out into the open, where their actions are visible and they can be held accountable, they are much more likely to behave in a responsible way.  At least, that’s my experience — and in many places, not just here, including in several political campaigns and in a couple overseas American communities where my wife and I were involved in political battles.

“In darkness and obscurity, the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail;
while only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured.”

And, one of my all-time favorite political quotes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

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