As previously noted, working with many other civic groups and some Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) members, we’ve spent over 14 years, now almost 15 trying one-by-one to cut off the hydra heads of out-of-control residential development. (As you may recall, the hydra was a dangerous and destructive monster in Greek mythology. It sprouted two new heads for every one that was cut off by those trying to protect themselves and their communities from it.)
Fellow Prince William County citizens:
A prominent Prince William County Democrat who contacted us just this month described how the monster of out-of-control residential development has historically affected his/her party. Here are excerpts of what he/she said:
“Thank you for compiling and disseminating this very useful research information. … I want you to know that I feel your pain on a very personal level.” “It was always a very lonely and frustrating thing [to be a balanced growth/] smart growth Democrat in … PW county… The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of forward-looking, fact-based policy dedicated to serving the interests of the general public. The Prince William Democratic establishment ignored that memo then and they are evidently still ignoring it today. As hard as we tried to enlighten them to the actual realities and consequences of sprawl, you might think I would be surprised that they still don’t get it. But in my heart I’m really not. They were always too beholden to their deep-pocketed developer friends to be willing to change. And the pro-developer [Democratic Party] incumbents always had the power to call the shots and make most of the establishment (i.e. County Democratic Committee) fall in line with their will.
“Once a person has bought into the old school developer thinking of ‘all growth is good growth,’ it is very easy to convince them that smart growth principles are just a bunch of rural elitist self-serving nonsense. They have already closed their minds to objective truths…”
He/she, after discussing some important past victories against out-of-control residential growth, then concluded, and this is particularly important:
“Unfortunately, progress made during one election cycle can be quickly lost in the next. The main problem is that the developers and their profit motive never go away, and there’s a damn good reason for that: they own or are otherwise vested in massive real estate holdings in areas they have targeted for future growth. So they just bide their time and then come at us again in the next election with their hand-picked stealth candidates, well coached on how to dodge the issues or misrepresent themselves just long enough to fool enough voters to get elected. It’s a fight that never ends, and it doesn’t help that Virginia is a place where the laws on the books prioritize ‘personal’ property rights over almost any other consideration. Never mind that those laws were written in a time when sprawl wasn’t an issue and their original purpose was to protect the rights of individual citizen landowners, not corporate entities and land use changes on a modern scale that can and do negatively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the whole region.
“We need people like you to stay vigilant, and I deeply appreciate your efforts.”
First of all, it’s always nice to know that we’re not alone, after the volumes of hate mail and threats we and some of our friends have received from residential developers and their toadies over the years, particularly during and after hard-fought residential development battles. The amusing thing about those battles, which we’ve almost always won, is that we’ve spent around $1,000 of our own money in almost 15 years, while our opponents have spent millions upon millions.
[By the way, here’s what we, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG), have always stood for:
https://pwcbg.org/about-us/ (Scroll down the page.)]
Second, the county has not come this far — finally ridding itself of rubber-stamp, pro-residential-developer Republicans like Corey Stewart, Marty Nohe, Wally Covington, and Democrats Hilda Barg and John Jenkins — only to have them now replaced by a platoon of Democrats, marching in lockstep behind Commandant (and BOCS at-large chairman candidate) Ann Wheeler to a thinly-disguised, yet more pro-residential-developer tune than ever.
The voters of Prince William County have a unique opportunity on November 5 to vote for BOCS candidates who have promised to protect the Rural Crescent — Republicans Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville District), Peter Candland (Gainesville District), Yesli Vega (Coles District), Douglas Taggart (Potomac District), and John Gray (at-large chairman) — or for those who have not, i.e., the BOCS Democratic candidates. This is the best way to stop the problem at its source. Obviously, none of these candidates is perfect, perhaps especially John Gray, who recently apologized to the county for offensive and intemperate remarks made on his Twitter account. But as another BOCS At-Large Chairman Candidate, Independent Muneer Baig, a well-spoken man, reminded us 8 October as we were discussing with him what happened seemingly very recently to the seemingly mild-mannered John Gray: “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” In other words, in our words, not necessarily Muneer’s, let political candidates be unforgiving if they have never supported a candidate who has said or done similar or worse things — including supporting leading Virginia elected officials who publicly support infanticide, wore blackface, and/or have allegedly committed multiple sexual assaults. (We’ll see about how forgiving the voters will be in all of these cases.) Otherwise, political candidates are just playing “gotcha” and being opportunistic and hypocritical. Remember that land use policy, tax rates, and budget are the only major things over which the BOCS has power and jurisdiction.
More importantly, we believe that unequivocal and public willingness by BOCS candidates to protect the Rural Crescent — with no loopholes allowed for extremely opportunistic residential developers (i.e., the hydra) — is an excellent test of whether a BOCS candidate is willing to accept any serious limits on residential development. A candidate who is unwilling to publicly, clearly, and specifically say so is already, by definition, part of the problem, not the solution. Once in office, subjected to the never-ending lobbying and offers of big money and other temptations from residential developers, with no self-imposed ethical and policy restraints and without an extremely firm will, such a person will only become more and more corrupted over time. At least that’s what we’ve seen happen over and over and over again over the last 15 years of being very involved in county land use issues. No exceptions.
Another thing that is very interesting about Independent Chairman candidate Muneer Baig, besides some important and unique insights about county land use that we gained from talking to him, is that, as of 31 August, he has received/accepted virtually no developer funding. See his website for more info. Likewise, Democrat Kenny Boddye (Occoquan District), who says that he does not accept funding from residential developers. We also realized when we met Kenny and were talking to him on 8 October that he was with us fighting yet another very unreasonable residential development plan a few months ago: Ray’s Regarde. While Kenny has not signed up to protect the Rural Crescent, neither has his opponent, Republican incumbent Ruth Anderson, who has received almost 40% of her campaign funding from developers.
Kenny was also apparently the only Democratic BOCS candidate who had the courage to openly attend the 8 October 2019 news conference supporting preservation of the Rural Crescent, apparently despite disapproval from county Democratic Commandant Ann Wheeler. And this does require courage, as one of our pro-Rural Crescent friends noticed after he/she recently questioned BOCS Democratic candidates directly on their Facebook sites about their positions on the Rural Crescent. Here’s how he/she described what followed: “I received a nastygram a few days ago, after having the audacity to post questions on a few [Democratic] candidates’ Facebook pages expecting a response to their position on [County Planning] Staff Recommendations [on the Rural Crescent.] Who knew actually expecting candidates to articulate their position would be seen as adversarial.” So much for freedom of speech and/or the public’s democratic right to know candidates’ positions; seems that this is an ongoing theme with some of the Democratic BOCS candidates this year, as noted previously.
The 8 Oct news conference mentioned in the paragraph above was hosted by current BOCS Supervisors Republicans Jeanine Lawson and Peter Candland and Democrat Frank Principi. Following the news conference, the three supervisors introduced to the BOCS a resolution to preserve the Rural Crescent. (See “Resolution to Suspend Rural Preservation Study Process” below.) The BOCS will vote on it next Tuesday, 15 October, at 7:30 pm at the McCoart building located at 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, VA, 22192. Please attend and sign up at least 15 minutes before the meeting to speak in favor of the resolution. Or at least send an email to the BOCS expressing your support: BOCS@pwcgov.org … or individual BOCS supervisors (see cc addressees above.) Or even better, do both, if you can.
Special thanks to those of you who are spreading the word via Facebook and other social media, e-mail, word-of-mouth, etc. Please continue to do so.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured, while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.
Resolution to Suspend Rural Preservation Study Process
Joint Resolution: Supervisor Peter Candland, Supervisor Jeanine Lawson and Supervisor Frank Principi
WHEREAS, the Rural Area in Prince William County covers approximately 117,000 acres, including MCB Quantico and two national parks;
WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors created the Rural Area, an Urban Growth Boundary, in 1998 with the adoption of a Comprehensive Plan that established a Rural Area and a Development Area;
WHEREAS, the Rural Area is intended to provide a tool to promote and protect agriculture, woodland, open space, and other rural land, and better control sprawl development;
WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors initiated a Rural Preservation Study in 2012 to review, evaluate, and make recommendations for policy revisions to better meet the County’s objectives;
WHEREAS, public input gathered throughout the study process revealed a strong consensus supporting the importance of maintaining an Urban Growth Boundary, Rural Area, in Prince William County;
WHEREAS, the Board of County Supervisors initiated further study of the options presented in the Rural Preservation Study on September of 2016;
WHEREAS, County Planning staff published draft policy revisions to the Comprehensive Plan regarding the rural area on September 17, 2019;
WHEREAS, the recent report of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) calls for planned housing growth to be located near transit;
WHEREAS, all chapters and recommendations prepared by the Prince William Planning Department for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan must be consistent with implementation of the housing targets adopted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments on September 11, 2019.
WHEREAS, existing rural area policies have proven to be a successful policy protecting the rural area from suburban sprawl and thereby channeling taxpayer funding for services into the development area;
WHEREAS, the rural area has significant assets including over 40 miles of Virginia Scenic Byways recognizing the value of scenic countryside views;
WHEREAS, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors renews its commitment to smart growth policies and recognizes the need for a comprehensive review of County land use policies;
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Prince William County Board of Supervisors directs all County staff to suspend any and all efforts on the Rural Clustering and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs, including any possible policy changes to the Rural Area/Urban Growth Boundary; removes from the Planning Commission’s work schedule the current Rural Area review work on the Rural Clustering and Transfer of Development Rights programs; and that County staff continues only the review of the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program with a focus on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ adopted goals and recommendations.