Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

Corey Stewart, BOCS Chairman

Laurie Cronin, Chief of Staff to Chairman Stewart

Gary Friedman, Planning Commission Chairman

29 Jan-2 Feb 2010

(E-mails read from top to bottom in reverse chronological order)
Subject: Re: CPA Land Use & Transportation Updates
Date: Tue, 02 Feb 2010 00:18:34 -0500
From: Ralph Stephenson <stephenrk1@comcast.net>
To: Cronin, Laurie A. <lcronin@pwcgov.org>, Friedman, Gary <garycf1@netzero.net>, Stewart, Corey <cstewart@pwcgov.org>, Pugh, Bob <bob@insightwealth.com>

Tks, Laurie, for the statements below from county Planning Staff.  Appreciate you taking the time to ask them to respond and sharing their response with me.

It’s interesting to see Planning Staff repeating almost verbatim the same mantras that I’ve heard over and over again from developers.  That only helps confirm my worst fears.  It’s also interesting how transparent many of the Planning Staff rebuttals below are; very obviously leaving out important information and in some cases making blatant distortions — either unintentionally out of ignorance or intentionally to obfuscate.  (Neither possibility is very comforting.)   For example: “The [Planning Staff’s plan] does not increase the number of new homes planned for Prince William County.”  OR  “The BOCS is considering the staff version of the Land Use chapter that proposes 2 Centers of Commerce, 2 Centers of Community, and 2 study areas for future centers.  The 4 centers reflect planning already approved by the Board and would result in no additional residential development in these areas.”  Say what?   If this is true, if there will indeed be no additional residential development in Planning Staff’s overall plan, then why is it proposing centers of community (the old LUAC euphemism for high-density housing)?  If there will be no new residential development in the centers of community, then why are they being proposed as development areas?  Development of what?  And NO ADDITIONAL residential development means what exactly:  in addition to what?

But it’s most interesting of all to see the Planning Staff directly rebutting Chairman Stewart’s own Planning Commission Chairman Gary Friedman.  (All four points below are his, not mine.)   Do you remember the following e-mail you sent me below in Dec 2008 [see passage between line of asterisks immediately below] in which you said Chairman Stewart strongly supported Chairman Friedman’s plan (which is represented in the four points rebutted by Planning Staff below)?  Your e-mail from today has a very different tone and apparent direction than that one from 14 months ago.  I’m getting the eerie feeling that Chairman Stewart has changed his mind and decided to no longer support his own Planning Commission Chairman, and instead support (or at least move much, much closer to) Planning Staff parotting the developer party line?  Is that true?  If so, why?   Please say it ain’t so.  Ralph Stephenson

Mr. Stephenson [summary of message from Stewart Chief of Staff Laurie Cronin to Ralph Stephenson 20 Dec 2008]:

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 http://www.insidenova.com/isn/news/local/article/prince_william_land_use_changes_in_the_works/26050/

Cronin, Laurie A. wrote:


Thank you for including me in your e-mail, I did want you to be aware of a response that I got from PWC Planning:


County’s future:

1.     Provides no incentives for focused, major development in the two areas of the county identified by the Planning Commission as most in need of redevelopment and revitalization, which already have the basic public infrastructure in place and are the most likely locations for future metro rail expansion from Fairfax into Prince William County:  North Woodbridge and Yorkshire.

Staff has proposed designating North Woodbridge a “Center of Commerce,” giving that area the highest level of focus and attention for redevelopment and revitalization.  This is on top of the fact that North Woodbridge has already been the focus of planning as part of the Potomac Communities effort.  Yorkshire has also been recommended by staff to be studied for consideration as a “Center of Community,” recognizing that it is in need of redevelopment and revitalization and has existing infrastructure.

2.     The “centers”, as proposed by staff, have been best described by a fellow planning commissioner as allowing “anything, anywhere, anytime”.   There is no limit on the number of these centers that could be advanced and the Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) located a large portion of them in the Brentsville District.  Planning staff proposes these “centers” comp plan amendment initiations be allowed without form, format, or defined content, other than a vague “mixed use” requirement, and without any major investment in the county or the process by the applicant, whenever a proposal is submitted.  It would then be left to staff to work out the details along the way, thus allowing unprecedented “flexibility”.  In this scenario I am sure staff would do the best job possible to “work out the details”.  But any such effort will, of necessity, be constrained by resources and staff availability.  Due to budget restraints and numerous department vacancies, planning staff is already stretched to its limits.  Does it make any sense to add what would surely become dramatic new burdens on an already overburdened department?  And if so, what would be the likely result?

The BOCS is considering the staff version of the Land Use chapter that proposes 2 Centers of Commerce, 2 Centers of Community, and 2 study areas for future centers.  The 4 centers reflect planning already approved by the Board and would result in no additional residential development in these areas.  Any request for an additional center would, if initiated by the BOCS, have to go through a planning process that engages the community in development of a “Centers Plan” that would define the unique characteristics of the area and would prescribe the limits on the appropriate amount of development in the Center.  You are correct that such a Centers Plan would require significant resources.

3.     Provides no phasing structure on mixed use projects.  We’ve been down this road before.  How many times have mixed use projects been approved in the past, the residential component installed, then the commercial component left waiting for “the market to catch up”?  This scenario always results in more rooftops, more congested roads, more overcrowded schools, and less revenue for the county to meet its obligations because the commercial component either never happens or happens to such a minimal level as to fail to offset the budget burdens the new homes create.

The proposal includes a requirement to phase the infrastructure of a project rather than the timing of the various uses.

4.     Fails to include the Planning Commission safeguards designed to protect the rural areas from encroachment.  Anyone who cares about advancing smarter growth principles knows encouraging and concentrating growth in the development area, and protecting rural areas from sprawl development, are key features.  While the planning staff text mentions smart growth principles, and makes plentiful use of smart growth language, the proposed details tell a very different story.

The proposal does not propose any changes to the protections currently afforded the rural area.  The rural area continues to be a critical element in the county’s efforts to concentrate growth and development in the development areas of the county, and to preserve the rural character of the rural area.

We do not need 50,000 new homes in our community.  We do not need supervisors who are allied with builders running the county government.  We already have a glut of homes, overcrowded schools and overcrowded roads.  Do not add to this by ignoring the residents who vote for you and lining your pockets with big builders bribes.  Please do the right thing for us, our children and all the people of Prince William County.

The proposal does not increase the number of new homes planned for Prince William County.  Rather, the plan would focus on improving the quality of development by focusing development in high quality mixed-use, walkable centers with access to transit and trails.

I hope this is helpful.



Laurie A. Cronin

Chief of Staff

Chairman Corey A. Stewart

Prince William County Board of Supervisors

(703) 792-5626 / (703) 792-4640


From: Ralph Stephenson [mailto:stephenrk1@comcast.net] Sent: Sunday, January 31, 2010 6:47 PM
To: Stewart, Corey A.
Cc: Cronin, Laurie A.; Friedman, Gary
Subject: Re: CPA Land Use & Transportation Updates



Thanks for getting back to me.  Appreciate all that you do to serve the county.  Per your request below for ideas for the comp plan, numbered below are the things that we would most like to see in it.

Ralph & Kathy Stephenson

  1. No more residential development at all until the county has worked off its current surplus/glut of residential housing.  Why would we build something that we not only don’t need, but that is economically harmful?  A possible rule of thumb might be that until the county’s total of empty/foreclosed houses and approved-but-not-yet-built houses drops below 7,000  or 10,000 at most, no more new houses can be approved.As has been said and proven so many times before, more residential housing over the next few years will further crowd schools and roads, subsidize residential developers yet again with our taxpayer dollars to create unneeded housing in a still-extremely-glutted housing market, and thus further damage the property values and long-term viability of older neighborhoods.  (At last count, there were still 25-30,000 approved, but not-yet-built homes in the county.)  More residential housing will also damage the county tax base, which is currently about 85% residential (higher taxes for all of us) and only 15% commercial.  And It will further harm the environment of beautiful (?? or soon-to-be-formerly-beautiful) western Prince William County.It’s ironic that the county is considering making it even easier to build residential housing at the very time that the U.S. is trying to recover from its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis brought on by, among other things: massive housing industry overcapacity and 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; dishonest and predatory 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 (or bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors.
  2. Please stress commercial development, not residential development — especially focused commercial development:  i.e., the Centers of Commerce concept, EXCEPT totally or mostly without residential housing.  The 85: 15 residential-to-commercial tax ratio is untenable, shows very poor and/or improper past planning by the county, and needs to be greatly improved.  Other than extreme cases like the Vulcan Quarry in Nokesville and the asphalt plants right next to housing, schools, GMU, and the county’s new arts center, when have citizens strongly protested commercial development?  Commercial is far, far more likely to receive a receptive audience — especially if it doesn’t severely impact traffic congestion or the environment — than residential development, which always has all the negative impacts discussed above and should only be built when it is actually needed.  Building housing only when we need it:  Isn’t that simply a matter of the most basic economic common sense?  Otherwise, the immutable laws of supply and demand will have their revenge on the county’s economy.  (I’m forwarding separately to you an economic analysis of the housing market, in line with other analyses I’ve seen and heard recently, that argues convincingly that housing demand is about to drop further in the coming months — upon expiration of a number of temporary federal government economic stimulae that have artificially propped it up for awhile.)
  3. I urge you to reject the Planning Staff and Land Use Advisory Committee, or LUAC, recommendations on the Land Use Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. As you may recall, the LUAC recommendations are outrageous, proposing 19 Centers of Community — 11 in the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas area. If each of these 19 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.Since the Planning Staff recommendations on residential housing, on closer examination, apparently set no real limits on housing and instead seem to allow “anything, anywhere, anytime” — and thus are not really a plan at all — I see no reason to believe that they will not ultimately move strongly in the direction of, even converge with the outrageous LUAC recommendations. On the other hand, the Planning Commission recommendations actually would noticeably plan and channel residential growth in more reasonable ways — and primarily in two areas.
  4. The following, on schools, we quote from Michelle Trenum because we agree completely:Please put some teeth in the school policy.  Although it is lovely to see the BOCS discuss the issue of school overcrowding, the proposed school policy with the way it currently is written doesn’t really do anything to address the real issues.  It is an empty box that is just wrapped in pretty paper with a nice bow.  That doesn’t change the fact that inside the box is NOTHING.   When I spoke before the board I showed a colored map of which schools would be overcrowded IF Avendale was approved….this policy, even if approved, does not change that colored map one bit.  All the same schools would still be overcrowded.

My concerns with the policy is that nothing is different from now but it gives the public the false illusion that the board is addressing the problem.  I also have issues that it only affects Linton Hall when there are other parts of the county with overcrowding as well.

It is the policy of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors that, before any new residential rezoning in the Linton Hall Geographic District is approved, the developer shall commit that no new building or occupancy permits shall be issued unless and until

(i) two new elementary schools IN THE LINTON HALL AREA are fully constructed and opened to new students;

Those schools were already on the schedule and will be completed, one by 2011 and the other by 2012 or it could be moved up to 2011 as well.  So nothing is different because any rezoning approved now would not have people moving in until 2011 or 2012 anyway. 

(ii) a new high school IN THE LINTON HALL AREA (at Kettle Run) is fully constructed and opened to new students;

Also, it is on the schedule to be opened in 2011 so nothing would change there

(iii) the sites for an additional elementary school and new middle school be acquired and located IN THE LINTON HALL AREA.

In an amazing coincidence, Avendale offered a middle school and elementary school site (although both are badly located) so golly gee, if Avendale was approved, then all the pieces would fall in place and anything could now be approved.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the school policy was actually put into effect last December 2009.  Then Avendale came up for a vote in January.

Could Avendale be approved with this policy in effect?  YES

Would the homes be built and occupied on the same timeline as without this policy?  YES

Could 10 more developments be approved with this policy as long as the homes weren’t occupied until 2012 which would have happened anyway due to the length of time it takes to go from approval to people moving in?  YES

Would our schools be equally as overcrowded with this policy as without this policy ?  YES, THERE WILL BE NO CHANGE.

So the policy does NOTHING until it deals with the capacity issue and school locations.
Stewart, Corey A. wrote:

Ralph, It really depends on how many people show up. If it is lighter than we expect, then I can allow for 5.  In any case, please feel free to send me any specific changes you would like us to consider. I, for one, am not hard set on any portion of the comp plan an am open to suggestions.

Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

—– Original Message —–
From: Ralph Stephenson <stephenrk1@comcast.net>
To: Stewart, Corey A.; Cronin, Laurie A.
Sent: Sat Jan 30 07:11:20 2010
Subject: Re: CPA Land Use & Transportation Updates

Thanks for letting me know.  Ralph

Stewart, Corey A. wrote:

Mr. Stephenson, I spoke to Chairman Stewart and due to the sheer volume of citizens expected at the meeting Chairman Stewart requested I advise you that you will have 3 minutes to speak.

Thank you,



Laurie Anne Cronin

Senior Aide

Chairman Corey A. Stewart

Prince William County Board of Supervisors

(703) 792- 5626 / (703) 792 – 4640

lcronin@pwcgov.org / cstewart@pwcgov.org

—–Original Message—–

From: Ralph Stephenson [mailto:stephenrk1@comcast.net]

Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 1:33 AM

To: Stewart, Corey A.

Cc: Pugh, Bob

Subject: Re: CPA Land Use & Transportation Updates

Chairman Stewart:  Please advise whether I’ll have five minutes to speak Tuesday 2 Feb during citizens time at 7:30 pm (as a representative of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth), or just three minutes.  Thanks for all you do to serve the county.  Ralph Stephenson



For Chairman Stewart’s original positions on land use, see: E-mail exchanges between Ralph Stephenson, BOCS, and Stewart’s Chief of Staff Laurie Cronin 12/20/2008