Citizens for Balanced Growth

Category: Reporting (Page 1 of 2)

Secrets of Devlin Road That Developers Will Never Tell You

[7 Mar 2020 updated version of mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, based on updated information from Prince William County government]

Fellow Prince William County citizens: 

In a recent email, we noted that on 10 March 2020 the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) will vote on the over-500-house Devlin Road residential development proposal.   For reference, here’s that message: https://pwcbg.org/2020/02/10-mar-devlin-vote-tests-inclusivity-of-new-dem-majority-bocs-24-feb-devlin-rd-town-hall/

(See also: https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/opinion/letter-supervisors-urged-to-deny-new-homes-on-devlin-road/article_b3f2f01e-5fbd-11ea-a15b-9f34fcf85c0f.html )

Our county government and other very reliable sources tell us that in their private conversations with BOCS Chair Wheeler, she clearly supports the Devlin proposal.  We conclude that the only way she would vote against Devlin is if citizens and/or the other BOCS members could persuade her. Furthermore, so far Chair Wheeler’s words and deeds have given us every indication that she supports a virtually-all-residential-development-is-good land use policy.

A better way — We urge Chair Wheeler to reconsider, and for the rest of the BOCS to reject this destructive and unpopular land use policy, which greatly harms ordinary citizens.  We urge the BOCS instead to slow down and fundamentally re-focus its residential development/ revitalization plans from West County to East County, if citizens there want it, and primarily to support any underserved residential areas.


Secrets of Devlin Rd. that developer Stanley Martin doesn’t want you to know — Here are some of the reasons we oppose this Devlin Rd. Project, let’s call it “Devlin2,” as we opposed its predecessors at the same location over the last 15 years (Brentswood, Stone Haven, and Devlin Rd. 1) — secrets of Devlin Road that residential developers will never tell you.

1.  Devlin2 will make school overcrowding worse, especially at middle schools and high schools.  As noted in the 20 Feb 2020 InsideNOVA article linked below, “the school board opposed the proposed development, which would mean about 376 more students enrolled in the division.   The proposed development would impact Chris Yung Elementary, Gainesville Middle, and Stonewall Jackson High.  Currently, Gainesville Middle is 15.3% over capacity and Stonewall Jackson High is 2.7% over capacity.” (See:  https://www.insidenova.com/news/politics/prince_william/developer-planning-homes-in-bristow/article_eb175f14-53fe-11ea-8d5b-87a165828f01.html .)

2.  Devlin2 will make local road congestion much worse.  Per Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson’s office and county planning staff, there will be 5,000 more vehicle trips on Devlin per day.   Furthermore, the road building bond approved on the November 2019 ballot by voters doesn’t necessarily mean the additional taxes to be raised from county taxpayers will be used any time soon or at all for Devlin Road improvements.  There are many projects, including in East County, where this money could be used, and the BOCS may thus decide to use the money elsewhere.

Bottom line:  The state is already planning to build an interchange at Rte. 234 and Balls Ford to improve traffic flow and to widen and improve Balls Ford and Devlin roads to Jennell Road. Stanley-Martin has offered $13M in transportation funds, apparently to help fund the widening of Devlin Rd. between Jennell and Linton Hall roads if Devlin2 and its 516 houses are approved.  What Stanley-Martin doesn’t want you to think about is that Devlin would probably not need to be widened at all between Jennell and Linton Hall roads, at least not soon (and it wouldn’t happen soon anyway, under any scenario) — with millions of dollars in new taxpayer debt incurred — if the Devlin Road2 project and its 516 houses were not built. (Residential developers like to dangle phony giveaways and other disinformation in front of the public to confuse those unfamiliar with their tactics.)

3.  Environmental problems, including downhill flooding and nearby toxic waste site — At the 29 Jan 2020 Stanley-Martin-sponsored “Devlin Road Rezoning Community Meeting” and again at the 24 Feb 2020 town hall on Devlin2 sponsored by Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, neighbors of the proposed Devlin Rd development, including Sheffield Manor residents, complained about flooding from the high ground on which Devlin2 will be built.  This flooding has worsened since the property owner Edith Hunter Rameika removed most of the trees (i.e., watershed) from this land after the Stone Haven proposal to develop her land was defeated in 2015.  The flooding will worsen … as the watershed is turned into mud during construction of Devlin2 and then turned into concrete, asphalt, and home-building materials as Devlin2 is completed.

There is currently no clear solution for the soon-to-worsen flooding problems if Devlin2 is approved.  When Truett Young of Stanley-Martin was asked about this repeatedly at the 29 Jan 2020 meeting, he seemed to miss the real question about flooding from Devlin2 to surrounding low-lying communities and focused on how draining water off the Devlin2 property will be successfully handled.

Likewise, when asked at the same meeting if he was concerned about the proximity of Devlin2 to the EPA Superfund toxic waste site, on the north side of Wellington Rd, roughly across the street from Jiffy Lube Live, he was unconcerned.  He said that Aerojet/Atlantic Research Corporation had done some great work in California and here in Prince William County.  When asked if he would buy a home about one mile away from an active toxic waste cleanup site, he said “yes.”

Our hope is that blasting from nearby construction and heavier runoff and flooding in recent years doesn’t disturb the ground so much that remaining below-ground toxic wastes are freed up and become part of downhill runoff from higher-elevation land into surrounding communities and industrial buildings.

In an early report on this toxic waste site dated July 1990 from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) titled:  Multi-Media Compliance Investigation:  Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC), Gainesville, Virginia, the EPA expressed concern on page 21 that the following actions required by law “had not been completed”:   “1. Reduction of all VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in surface streams leaving ARC property to maximum contaminant levels (MCLs)” and “3.   Disposal or treatment of contaminate soils that are a factor in possible off-site migration of organic hazardous waste constituents.”   A recent report dated 13 Dec 2018 noted that there are still problems:  “contaminants remain in soil at the Facility above residential risk management levels, and at concentrations above risk-based standards in groundwater,” although landowner “Gainesville Associates has indicated that it intends to make the entire Facility suitable for unrestricted use.” (See:  https://www.epa.gov/hwcorrectiveaction/hazardous-waste-cleanup-atlantic-research-corporation-gainesville-va .  Make the entire Facility suitable for unrestricted use??)

4.  Still tax-negative after all these yearsWe believe the “$600,000 per house” value promised by Stanley-Martin’s Truett Young is unrealistic, most of all for the postage-stamp-sized 7000 sq foot lots some of the houses will reportedly be built on.  Expect net tax-negative actual housing prices for this project ultimately, as is true of most residential developments in the county.  Tax-negative housing means that you pay higher taxes for the additional county services required (schools, roads, fire, police, libraries, etc) but not covered by the additional real estate taxes, and thus you indirectly subsidize the developers.

5.  Stanley-Martin unwilling to compromise on Devlin2 or consider impacts to community — Stanley-Martin’s Truett Young was asked the following question after the 29 Jan 2020 Stanley-Martin-sponsored meeting noted above:   “If opposition were to diminish or disappear if you built about half as many houses on the same space and acreage, would you agree to that?”  He imperiously brushed off the question, similar to repeated requests during the meeting for fewer houses and bigger lots, with the same explanation he made during the meeting — that he was not going to waste four years of planning just to satisfy local citizens. 

Elite indifference to ordinary people — This response is, of course, similar to Mr. Truett Young’s indifference noted above regarding impacts from greater flooding to existing Devlin Rd. communities such as Sheffield Manor and potential dangers from the toxic waste site about one mile north of the Devlin2 site.  But that shouldn’t be too surprising; his company, Stanley-Martin, is a Japanese company (Daiwa House USA.)  Companies with absentee owners rarely respond with much compassion or concern for people thousands of miles away to whom they are completely unaccountable…  Just like Brookfield Homes, based in western Canada, showed no concern for the interests of the Prince William County natives who would’ve been greatly harmed by that massive residential development along Devlin Rd in 2006…

Just like Chair Wheeler seems to show little concern for the interests of much of Prince William County, for ordinary people, when she repeatedly exults in her state of the county address about a 150% increase in the county’s population in the last 20 years (from ~188,000 to over 468,000 today) and further inevitable rapid growth in the future, while in other venues giving every indication that she has adopted a “virtually-all-growth-is-good-growth” view.  (See first link above.)  Chair Wheeler makes only brief mention and shows no apparent understanding of the harmful effects of such rapid growth.  She seems unable to connect the harmful effects to their cause — overly rapid growth — and appears oblivious to the disruption and great harm it has done to ordinary people:  county school children, commuters, taxpayers, and lovers of the county’s fast disappearing natural beauty.  (See: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/bocs-chair-wheelers-7-jan-2020-state-of-the-county-address/ Also see: https://www.pwcgov.org/government/bocs/Documents/WheelerSOEI20.PDF , especially pages 12a-c and 15.  Let’s be clear:  Chair Wheeler is not just a very politically powerful person, an elite person, but also a very wealthy one, a multi-millionaire.)

The attitudes we so abhor when we read about them in history books about times past, are clearly alive and well in our current day when the elite, when those in positions of power show no regard for the greatest good for the greatest number, or minority rights, but instead are quite happy to unnecessarily force their unquestioning faith in their own views on unwilling majorities or minorities.

6.  Reprising developer lies regarding Stone Haven — At the 24 Feb 2020 town hall on Devlin2 noted above, during the Q&A session a friend of Stanley-Martin’s Truett Young brought up some of the old residential developer lies regarding Stone Haven to justify Devlin2.  For the record, here is our refutation back in 2015 of similar developer lies then regarding Stone Haven:  https://pwcbg.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/StoneHavenFlier.pdf

What’s next? — Please forward this info to others via social media, email, etc.    Also, please contact your BOCS supervisor via email (see cc addressees above and/or use BOCS@pwcgov.org) and come speak at the McCoart Center at 1 County Complex Court in Woodbridge on 10 March at 7:30 pm.  Arrive a little early to sign up to speak.  A brief 30-60 second statement is all you need to make.  Something like “I oppose the Devlin Rd. development because it will further overcrowd our roads and schools, likely increase our taxes, further damage the environment and harm nearby property owners.”   Or, if you would like to speak longer, citizens are normally allowed 3 minutes.

It’s your neighborhood, your community, your county.  What happens to it, what land use decisions the county makes regarding it depend on whether you make your voice heard and protest policies that harm you … or leave the field to residential developers alone.

Yours truly,

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.

10 Mar Devlin Vote Tests Inclusivity of New Dem-Majority BOCS; 24 Feb Devlin Rd Town Hall

[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]

Fellow citizens:

Devlin Road Returns — Prince William County residential developers are trying yet again to revive an already-thrice-failed effort to put hundreds of new houses (over 500 this time) on a portion of Devlin Rd.  The previous efforts — Brentswood (2005-06), Stone Haven (2012-15), and Devlin I (Dec 2019) — failed when citizens in surrounding neighborhoods and elsewhere in the county got wise to how these projects would further overcrowd their already overstretched roads and schools, raise their taxes, lower property values, and further damage the environment.

New BOCS Chairman Wheeler Stresses Inclusivity — New Democratic Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Chair Ann Wheeler has promised a new, fully-inclusive PW County for all citizens and improved, more functional, less overcrowded, more effective schools and transportation/ roads.  At least some of the incoming new Democratic supervisors have expressed a desire to shift at least some renewal/redevelopment to underserved areas in east county, rather than the old pro-developer policy of building more and more high-density houses in west county (where certain politically-connected residential developers own a lot of land) at such a rate that roads and schools — already way overcapacity — can never catch up.  Here’s one of Chair Wheeler’s latest speeches on more inclusivity in PW County: https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/bocs-chair-wheelers-7-jan-2020-state-of-the-county-address/

The Previous Pro-Developer Pattern of Stewart, Nohe — So will Chair Wheeler pursue policies that are truly inclusive and bring the greatest good to the greatest number?  Or will she instead, despite her rhetoric, simply ape the all-residential-development-is-good policies of the previous aggressively pro-residential-development leaders of the BOCS, Republicans Corey Stewart and Marty Nohe? This, despite the demonstrable harm that such policies have done to county schoolchildren, commuters, taxpayers, and all who wish to preserve at least some of our county’s natural beauty before it’s all gone.

How Wheeler Is Already Aping Republicans Stewart, Nohe — Initial indications are not good and suggest that Chairman Wheeler is precisely in the mold of Republicans Stewart and Nohe when it comes to the BOCS’ main area of responsibility, land use.  Stewart and Nohe supported the developers’ Bi-County Parkway (BCP) road-to-developer-heaven, which would break open the green Rural Crescent to high-density housing and thousands of new homes.  Wheeler, too, supports the BCP. Stewart and Nohe tried repeatedly to develop the extremely unpopular Devlin Rd. and Kline Farm projects.  Wheeler has to date clearly demonstrated and/or voiced support for these two projects.  Just like Republicans Stewart and Nohe, Wheeler still refuses to specifically support the very popular Rural Crescent from residential developer encroachment and from developer-inspired county plans that encourage this encroachment.  Apparently, Chair Wheeler’s version of “inclusivity,” as it pertains to land use, is already excluding the repeatedly-expressed will of citizens of western and central Prince William County — over half the county.

24 Feb Town Hall on Devlin — Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson’s office is hosting a 24 Feb 7-9 pm town hall meeting at Chris Yung Elementary School 12612 Fog Light Way, off Devlin Rd. in Bristow to discuss the Devlin Road project and its impact on local citizens. Please join us.

Here’s an aerial view/map of the proposed Devlin Rd. development area: 
https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/devlin-road-community-aerial/image_9e50eede-bff3-11e8-9105-132a715e4be1.html

Please contact the BOCS and voice your concern:  BOCS@pwcgov.org   See you on 24 Feb and 10 Mar.

Sincerely,

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.

URGENT: Stop Stewart’s Sneaky Scheme To Add 516 More Houses on Devlin Road Now, Before Term Ends

[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]

All: Please note that Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Chairman Corey Stewart, who leaves office at the end of December 2019, is making a last-ditch effort to get approval over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays for 516 more houses on Devlin Road. Cynically, he thinks no one will notice or have time over the holidays to stop him, especially since he’s trying at the 19 November BOCS meeting to get the final vote scheduled to come up after midnight on 3 December.

For more info, see: https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2019/11/its-lame-duck-christmas.html

(This proposal resurrects a part of the very unpopular and previously-defeated Brentswood and Stone Haven proposals for Devlin Road. Ironically, Stewart, then Occoquan Supervisor, played a key role in defeating Brentswood, which helped propel him a year later (2007) to election as the BOCS chairman.)

Stewart-ordered advertisement of still-not-BOCS-approved 3 December public hearing.

So, once again, Chairman Stewart is putting the interests of his residential developer cronies — who’ve now given him almost $1.5M (see http://vpap.org) — above the need to reduce school and road overcrowding and keep our taxes low (by avoiding tax-negative residential development.) He clearly has no qualms about disturbing the peace of your Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with his personal need to pay off old political debts. Furthermore, by doing all this, he is yet again showing his enmity and vindictiveness toward the very people who elected him to office to serve the county and the greater public good, but who never saw fit to help him realize his fondest dream of statewide elected office.

Stewart’s two-step plan is to pass a resolution at the 19 November BOCS meeting to hold an evening meeting on 3 December (currently no such meeting is planned) to approve the 516 houses on Devlin. Despite Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson’s, citizens’, and reportedly even county Planning Staff’s objections — unmistakably strong, and growing, public opposition — to his hasty, ill-advised, and desperate last-minute attempt, Stewart has persisted. He has persisted in abusing his authority as BOCS chairman and disrespected the other BOCS members — as well as established county procedure — by already placing the obligatory, advance-notice 3 December public hearing signs on Devlin Road, before the public hearing has even been approved by the full BOCS. (See photo above.)

Please let the BOCS know, before it’s too late, that you oppose this sneaky, cynical, and entirely self-serving effort by lame-duck Chairman Stewart that harms all county citizens, especially those who live in the Brentsville and Gainesville districts. ACTION REQUESTED: Forward this message, or your own message, asking the BOCS to reject on 19 November a special meeting on 3 December regarding Devlin Road that will harm you, the county’s schoolchildren, taxpayers, commuters. Here’s the collective BOCS email address: BOCS@pwcgov.org

Yours truly,

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.

“Teachers can make $15,000 more just by moving to the district next door”

by Moriah Balingit, Washington Post

23 November 2015, pp. B1-B2

With 10 years of experience and a master’s degree, a mid-career teacher in Fairfax County can earn $15,000 more by moving slightly east, to Arlington County, the highest-paying suburban school district in the Washington region. In Maryland, the average teacher salary in wealthy Montgomery County is $9,300 more than the average teacher salary in neighboring Prince George’s County.

These disparities, highlighted in a report from the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), are making it difficult for districts that pay on the lower end of the spectrum to attract and retain teachers, school officials said, especially as the demand for teachers grows in tandem with student enrollment. A nationwide teacher shortage also has made it particularly difficult for districts to find qualified teachers for special-education students and for English-language learners.

The report “clearly demonstrates the challenge we face in recruiting and retaining the very best teachers,” Fairfax Superintendent Karen Garza said in a statement. Fairfax County ranked fifth among the region’s Maryland and Virginia school districts — not including D.C. Public Schools — with an average teacher salary of $67,589.

The annual WABE guide shows how 10 area school districts compare on several measures, offering stark contrasts between them. The region’s school districts vary widely in what they pay teachers, how crammed classrooms are and what they spend per student.

[A teacher gets an $8,000 raise by moving to the school district next door]

 

2300ed-WABE1123

How surburban school districts measure up

The gap between the highest- and lowest-paying large districts, as measured by average teacher salary, has lessened slightly during the past four years. In 2011, Montgomery’s average teacher salary was $15,000 more than that of Prince William County, which was struggling with both the collapse of the housing market and a sudden boom in enrollment. Now, Arlington has the highest average teacher salary, at $78,000, and an average teacher salary of about $13,500 more than Prince William, which has the lowest teacher pay among Washington-region districts with more than 10,000 students.

Pay remains of deep concern to school officials, particularly in large districts that have to hire hundreds of teachers every year to keep up with enrollment and to replace teachers who retire or leave the district.

Fairfax County, which employs nearly 15,500 teachers, surveyed 459 teachers this year who left for reasons other than retirement or termination. The survey found that nearly 57 percent cited pay as a reason for their departure. About 70 percent cited personal reasons as a factor.

The school system also is finding that filling jobs is a challenge; as of early October, the district needed 54 special-education teachers.

A district’s average salary also can be reflective of the kind of teacher a district can afford. Deirdra McLaughlin, the assistant superintendent for finance and management in Arlington, said the district’s high average salary is partially explained by the system’s tendency to hire experienced teachers with graduate degrees who command higher salaries.

Teachers in Manassas Park — a small city system that employs about 250 classroom teachers — have an average salary that is $20,000 less than Arlington’s, but the district’s teachers tend to be younger, said Shannon Watson, the school system’s human resources director.

There also is anecdotal evidence that some teachers are leaving districts for better-
paying jobs in nearby school districts. D.C. Public Schools does not participate in the WABE survey, and a spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment; but in 2013, the average teacher salary was $77,500, the highest in the region at the time. That may be a factor in drawing in teachers from suburban school districts.

[D.C. traditional public school teacher pay is higher than charters]

Theresa Mitchell Dudley, the president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said she had a colleague who was hired away by Montgomery, where the average teacher salary is $9,300 higher.

“We recruit them, we train them, and then, because of financial reasons, we lose a lot of them,” Dudley said.

But even in the midst of tough budget seasons, many school districts have made an effort to give teachers raises to stay competitive. Prince George’s has made moves to increase salaries and give cost-of-living increases to its teachers.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. ­Baker III (D) made a bid this year to dramatically increase taxes in a county with higher-than-average rates so he could give the schools $136 million to help close the pay gap for teachers. Baker’s plan was rejected, and the county instead adopted a budget that gave the school $34 million in new money.

Prince William also fought for teacher raises last school year, even as a harrowing budget cycle threatened a host of school system programs.

“It has been a challenge, and it has been a priority of the School Board and others to at least find ways to increase salaries,” said Prince William schools spokesman Phil Kavits.

Since the vast majority of school budgets go to paying school employees, teacher pay is closely tied to how much a district is spending per student.

Arlington spends $18,616 per student, the most of any district in the WABE report. That money translates into high teacher salaries and some of the region’s lowest class sizes.

“If you really take excellence seriously, you have to pay for it,” McLaughlin said.

Prince William, which saw a major student population growth during the economic downturn, remains at the bottom of the per-pupil spending list among large districts, spending $10,724 per student. Class sizes have grown and teacher salaries remain low relative to neighboring districts, which means Prince William teachers are paid less to educate more students.

The school system has the largest classes, packing an average of more than 30 students into high school classrooms. That’s an average of three more students per class than in Montgomery and Loudoun counties.

Prince William has begun bringing down class sizes by adding teachers, but that has proven expensive: The county estimates that it costs about $1 million to reduce class sizes by one student for one grade in the district of more than 88,000. Last year, the county was able to reduce middle school class sizes by one student, with an average of 29.6 students per class.

Moriah Balingit writes about education for the Post.


For PDF version of article, click here:  Teachers can make $15,000 more just by moving to the district next door – The Washington Post

 

2300ed-WABE1123

E-mail exchanges between PWCBG co-founders and PWC BOCS Chairman Corey Stewart

PWCBG co-founders Ralph Stephenson and Bob Pugh

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart

23 March-8 April 2013:  e-mails in reverse chronological order, most recent on top

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Re: Falsities in Chmn Stewart’s Reply on Rez Development, Taxes, County’s Economy, etc; Stone Haven
Date: Mon, 08 Apr 2013 10:09:49 -0400
From: Ralph Stephenson [e-mail address withheld]
To: ‘Prince William County’ <BOCS@pwcgov.org>, ‘GT_Dan Roem’ <droem@timespapers.com>, ‘GT_Tara Slate Donaldson’ <tdonaldson@timespapers.com>, bordenj@washpost.com, kpugh@princewilliamtoday.com, editor@observernow.com, hkras@bristowbeat.com, stacyshaw@bristowbeat.com, jshaw@bristowbeat.com
CC: Bob Pugh [e-mail address withheld]

A high-level summary of PW County’s failure to attract business other than residential developers, and the consequences, from Washington Business Journal:

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/2012/01/prince-william-county-a-sleepy-suburb.html?page=all

The article concludes with the following statement:

“The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments projects Prince William to hit 555,000 residents by 2030. Perhaps by then the county will have shed its sleepy image, or at least welcomed some big time employers into the fold.  I-95 and I-66 may never be wide enough to handle the traffic if it doesn’t.”

Ralph Stephenson
Co-Founder, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Re: Falsities in Chmn Stewart’s Reply on Rez Development, Taxes, County’s Economy, etc; Stone Haven
Date: Mon, 08 Apr 2013 08:56:58 -0400
From: Ralph Stephenson [e-mail address withheld]
To: ‘Prince William County’ <BOCS@pwcgov.org>, ‘GT_Dan Roem’ <droem@timespapers.com>, ‘GT_Tara Slate Donaldson’ <tdonaldson@timespapers.com>, bordenj@washpost.com, kpugh@princewilliamtoday.com, editor@observernow.com, hkras@bristowbeat.com, stacyshaw@bristowbeat.com, jshaw@bristowbeat.com
CC: Bob Pugh [e-mail address withheld]

I concur with Ralph Stephenson’s analysis, and want to add a few points of my own.

Mr. Stewart’s numbers on changes in the real estate tax base in Prince William County are correct, but misleading, for the seven-year period based off 2005 and ending in 2012.  He includes apartments and state-valued public service properties in his definition of “commercial” to arrive at his totals.  To me, it’s very disconcerting that he considers apartments as commercial development.  Other analysts would consider them residential, even though they are owned by commercial entities.  They do nothing to improve the revenue-positive tax base in the county.

More accurately, the commercial/industrial part of the tax base was 10.08% in 2005 and 14.28% in 2012.  Even these numbers are skewed and show “progress” that does not really exist in developing the commercial/industrial sector in Prince William County.  2005 was at the height of the residential real estate bubble and artificially skewed the commercial/industrial percentage down and residential up.  There has been little, if any, actual change in the proportion of commercial/industrial in the County’s tax base.  After the residential real estate market collapse, commercial/industrial rose into the teens in its proportion in the tax base.  This change again does not reflect real economic development but instead anomalies derived from the expanding and then bursting residential real estate bubble.

Moreover, the commercial development that has taken place in Prince William County over the past seven years has been overwhelmingly low-wage service sector employment.  Please see my presentation to the PWC Committee of 100 January 30, 2013 for a detailed analysis of changes in the economic structure in Prince William County over the past decade (attached).   [Click here for that presentation.]

Prince William County remains a primarily low-wage service economy.  According to the latest data (downloaded today) from the Virginia Employment Commission, PWC ranks below the state average in hourly, weekly and annual wages, despite its proximity to the Washington, DC and being a part of the Northern Virginia economy:

Virginia Employment Commission Data

Mr. Stewart’s assertions on taxes falling during his tenure as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors strain plausibility.  He claims that taxes have been cut by 8.5% since he has been Chairman.  In fact, total general property taxes have risen 37% during his tenure as Chairman, which is twice the rate of inflation.

Property Taxes PWC

Job growth in Prince William County has been substantial over the past decade (refer again to my Committee of 100 presentation).  However, job growth has lagged behind population growth substantially.  Total at-place employment in Prince William County grew from 83,676 in 2001 to 108,573 in 2011, or 24,897 jobs. That is an increase of 29.75%. However, the population of Prince William County grew from 294,798 to 409,345 during the same period. That is growth of 38.86%. Thus, the rate of population growth has exceeded the rate of job growth by over nine percentage points.

The inevitable conclusion is that the economic vitality of Prince William County has deteriorated significantly as job growth fails to keep pace with population growth, and the jobs being created are primarily low-wage service jobs.  The wealth and affluence of Prince William County derives from the more than two-thirds of our residents who commute to other jurisdictions in the region to find high-wage jobs.  Those jurisdictions have pursued more forward-looking, balanced economic growth strategies while Prince William County has allowed itself to become a low-wage bedroom community subservient to the wishes of the residential development industry.

I am available to discuss any of this analysis if anyone in the news media wishes to explore the facts in more detail.

Bob Pugh
Co-Founder, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

 

From: Ralph Stephenson [e-mail address withheld]
Sent: Sunday, April 07, 2013 2:03 PM
To: Stephenson, Ralph
Cc: Prince William County; GT_Dan Roem; GT_Tara Slate Donaldson; bordenj@washpost.com; kpugh@princewilliamtoday.com; editor@observernow.com; hkras@bristowbeat.com; stacyshaw@bristowbeat.com; jshaw@bristowbeat.com
Subject: Falsities in Chmn Stewart’s Reply on Rez Development, Taxes, County’s Economy, etc; Stone Haven

Chairman Stewart, thanks for getting back to me but, regrettably, your answers below are not accurate.

  • Your first statement below about the real estate tax base (the residential-to-commercial ratio) is demonstrably false.    Per the county’s own records, in 2012 14% of real estate revenue came from commercial real estate taxes and almost all of the rest (82%) came from residential real estate taxes.  See the following hyperlink, pp. 24 and A9 (overall pp. 30 of 66 and 47 of 66, respectively) for details and historical statistics on the commercial-residential real estate tax ratio:    http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/finance/Documents/2012%20Annual%20Report.pdf    To better understand this topic generally, please click on the following link: County fostering low-wage service economy, tax-negative land development  Why does this matter?  Many Prince William County citizens, including Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, believe that Prince William County is overly dependent on residential housing for tax revenues, which leads to unnecessarily high tax burdens for county citizens and a  limited, low-opportunity local economy with relatively few high-income jobs and few high-tax-revenue- producing businesses.
  • Below you state:  “Prince William County has been ranked #1 in Virginia, #3 in the country in job growth and our median incomes continue to increase dramatically.  Just this past year they rose by over $3,000 and we were listed as being the 7th wealthiest county in the United States.”  //  That’s all well and good, but very few of those high-paying jobs are located in Prince William County; a very large percentage of them have something to do, directly or indirectly, with the area’s #1 industry, the federal government and federal contracting, lobbying, etc.  You seem to be taking credit for the federal government’s presence in the region, which of course is patently absurd.  On the other hand, you seem reluctant to take credit for aggressive, high-density residential land development which is, in fact, fostering a low-wage service economy and tax-negative land development here.  That in turn ensures that for a very long time to come, PW residents will live in a commercially underdeveloped area and have to commute long distances to other communities that are more commercially developed and have almost all the high-paying jobs.
  • I’ve lived in the same middle-class neighborhood in Braemar since well before you became Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors in 2007.  Unfortunately, my real estate taxes have gone up 9.5% since 2007.   So whose real estate taxes have you cut, exactly?  I’m still looking for that refund check in the mail.
  • Below you state:  “There is currently only a 2.5-month housing supply in the county as our community continues to rapidly rise out of the great recession. Although we are seeing an uptick in the number of applications to build new retail, office, and residential projects, it is nowhere close to where it was in the early 2000’s.”  // While I have no idea what that statement means, I do know that there is a very large backlog in the county of approved, but not-yet-built homes, not to mention foreclosed and vacant homes.  As recently as about 18 months ago, even avidly pro-residential developer Supervisor Covington acknowledged that there were 30,000 approved-but-not-yet-built houses in the county.  Are you suggesting that in the last 18 months, the 30,000 home backlog has been cleared and thus, at the county’s average rate of 3 per house, PW County’s population has increased by 90,000?   As you must know, that has not happened, thankfully.
  • It’s good that the county has built more roads and schools.  The traffic situation in western PW County has definitely improved since the intolerable conditions that existed before late-2006.  However, the school situation continues to be marked by serious overcrowding, which is an obvious impediment to teaching and the effectiveness of our schools.   If the new Stone Haven development between Devlin and Linton Hall roads is built, won’t that return the whole area to the intolerable traffic congestion that existed before late-2006 and worsen the already serious school overcrowding?   Have you mentioned to anyone that the high school that is being promised by you and Stone Haven’s developers will, in fact, be empty land, and cost taxpayers over $100M?  Have you mentioned to anyone that if you weren’t pushing development of so many new homes in the area, existing schools wouldn’t be so overcrowded and we wouldn’t need another high school right now?  Have you mentioned to anyone that after Stone Haven is built we’ll need another high school in addition to the one already promised?  For more info on Stone Haven, click on the following hyperlink:  Stonehaven_Brentswood2
  • Also, if Stone Haven really is to contain as few as 600-1600 new housing units, why so much hoopla, effort, and study?  In fact, do you need a rezoning at all, or is there already zoning for about that many houses in the immediate or surrounding areas?  Or do you and the developers, in reality, plan to make this development many times larger than that — once “developers create a detailed plan”.  Perhaps closer to the size of the original Brentswood plan — 6,800 homes — which you fiercely opposed in 2006.  See: Stonehaven_Brentswood2
  • Building unneeded homes just because developers want them cannibalizes older neighborhoods and their property values and prematurely ages them, leads to indirect taxpayer subsidies of these unneeded and harmful new developments, and most importantly of all causes severe school overcrowding and traffic congestion.  Taxpayers, not developers, pay for the police, fire, water, sewer, roads, schools, and other government infrastructure and services that must support such new developments.  Since you frequently claim to be fiscally conservative, why do you continually support unneeded and harmful taxpayer-subsidized housing, while ensuring that developer proffers to PW county are among the lowest in Northern Virginia?  See:  Proffers (2007-12)
  • You’ve failed to seriously address any of my questions below about your 180-degree reversal of position on the still-harmful effects of high-density, tax revenue-negative housing on school overcrowding, traffic congestion, local taxes, the environment, etc.  Therefore, I’m assuming that you have no response.

And now that the fallacies and falsities of all the arguments and supporting data in your note below are known, are you willing to once again return to supporting balanced growth policies, as you did before you became chairman?   If not, since there’s no real policy reason for you to continue to support pro-developer, rapid residential development growth policies, what reason could possibly remain for you to do so other than your own political ambition for statewide office and need for developer money to fund it?  Click on the following for more info on your [Chairman Stewart’s] conflicts of interest.

Let me know if you’d like to change or add anything to your response below.  Ralph

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Questions for Chairman Stewart
Date: Thu, 04 Apr 2013 14:21:33 -0400
From: Stewart, Corey A. <cstewart@pwcgov.org>
To: Ralph Stephenson [e-mail address withheld]

Ralph,

The county has changed dramatically since I first ran for Chairman in 2006.

Seven years ago the commercial tax base in Prince William County was 16% of the county’s tax base, during the last seven years that percentage has jumped to 22%. This large increase in the commercial tax base has gone a long way in helping to lessen the tax burden on county home owners. Since I have been Chairman we have been able to cut taxes in the county by 8.5%.

There is currently only a 2.5 month housing supply in the county as our community continues to rapidly rise out of the great recession. Although we are seeing an uptick in the number of applications to build new retail, office, and residential projects, it is nowhere close to where it was in the early 2000’s.

Since I began serving as Chairman, the county has been able to catch up with the uncontrolled growth of the 90’s and early 2000’s by investing half a billion dollars in local road projects and building 12 new schools. At the same the Trails and Blueway’s Council was commissioned by the Board and many parks and playing fields were improved, lit and opened.

Recently, Prince William County has been ranked #1 in Virginia, #3 in the country in job growth and our median incomes continue to increase dramatically.  Just this past year they rose by over $3,000 and we were listed as being the 7th wealthiest county in the United States.

I am proud to have the support of the business community and have worked diligently with them and county staff to eliminate unnecessary government red tape that cut in half the time it takes to start or expand a business in Prince William County.

–Corey

Corey A. Stewart
Chairman
Prince William Board of County Supervisors
1 County Complex Court
Prince William, VA 22192
(703) 792-4640
cstewart@pwcgov.org
www.pwcgov.org

 

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Questions for Chmn Stewart About Stone Haven, Residential Development
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2013 08:49:41 -0400
From: Ralph Stephenson [e-mail address withheld]
To: Stewart, Corey <cstewart@pwcgov.org>
CC: BOCS, Prince William County <BOCS@pwcgov.org>, GT_Dan Roem <droem@timespapers.com>, GT_Tara Slate Donaldson <tdonaldson@timespapers.com>,bordenj@washpost.com, kpugh@princewilliamtoday.com, editor@observernow.com, hkras@bristowbeat.com, stacyshaw@bristowbeat.com, jshaw@bristowbeat.com

Chairman Stewart:

I have the following questions for you and would appreciate a response as soon as possible.

  • In a Washington Post article dated 20 August 2006 regarding Brentswood , you are reported to have said the following:  Stewart told delegates that the county must rein in high-density developments, which do not bring in enough tax revenue to cover the county services used by their residents. “When we approve large developments, we are essentially approving a tax increase,” he said.

Why are you now in favor of a large high-density development like Stone Haven which, in your words above would be “essentially approving a tax increase” to pay for housing that the county doesn’t even need (Stone Haven) — particularly considering that even Mr. Covington has recently acknowledged that there are already ~30,000 houses that have been approved by the county but not yet built?

 

  • In a Potomac News article dated 28 September 2006 and titled  “Pandak, Stewart Battle at Forum” you are reported to have said the following:   Stewart, the Republican candidate who represents the Occoquan district on the board, said the reason he wants to be chairman is to “Try and do something to slow down residential growth to improve our transit systems, our transportation systems, reduce our commute times.”  Stewart’s answer is to get more money from developers to pay for open space, transportation, schools and police. “We are over-planned, we have somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand units already in the pipeline ready to go,” the 38-year-old Stewart said of coming development in the county. Developers build the houses that need services and developers should pay proffers to offset the adverse effects their development has on the community. He has called on the board to raise the proffers developers pay by $9,000 per house. “If developers do not pay for development, you do,”‘ said Stewart, who was elected to the board in 2003.
  • In a Manassas Journal Messenger article dated 31 August 2007 and titled:  “Stewart Seeks To Raise Residential Proffers,”  you are reported to have said the following:  “We’re trying to encourage more office, high-end retail and other commercial development. We don’t want to discourage it,” Stewart said. “What’s really taking a toll on our infrastructure is residential development.”

Why are you now in favor of residential development like Stone Haven despite, in your words above,”the adverse effects their development has on the community”?  And since developers still do not pay for development costs (your efforts described above to get more money from developers failed), why have you changed your mind and now become willing to foist upon taxpayers those costs, which include school overcrowding, traffic congestion, higher taxes (for new schools, roads, etc), and reduced property values in older neighborhoods?

 

  • In a Washington Business Journal article dated 17 Mar 2008) you are reported to have said the following:  “The way I look at it, we have an oversupply of housing right now,” said Corey Stewart, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “We need to develop more office space and high-end retail. That being said, we do need to encourage more mixed-use developments with walkable communities.” …  Prince William leans too heavily on home­owners’ tax dollars, Stewart said. Only 14 percent of the county’s tax base is derived from commercial properties.  For comparison, Loudoun County receives about 20 percent of its taxes from commercial properties, and Arlington County gets about 45 from commercial uses.

Considering the ~30,000 unit backlog of already-approved-but-not-yet-built houses plus vacant and foreclosed homes, and considering that the roughly 85:15 residential to commercial tax revenue problem in PW County continues, why do you want to make the problem worse by building Stone Haven?

  • The following YouTube video from Aug-Sep 2007, describes in your own words how you apparently began to lose interest in controlling growth and the housing boom, in favor of a new hot-button, attention-getting issue:  “My issue up until the immigration issue came up was controlling growth, trying to preserve more trees and open space, and socking it to the development community. . . The housing boom has not helped the average person.  It’s hurt the average person. . .  In July Supervisor John Stirrup introduced this resolution against illegal immigration in the County.  I didn’t know about it . . . I supported [it] … and it took on a life of its own.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8XDSKrNzs

It appears that there may be a connection between your apparent loss of interest in balanced, managed residential growth and the fact that you’ve set your sights on higher political office (you’re in the midst of your second campaign for VA lieutenant governor) and now need a lot of housing developer money to run for statewide office.  How would you respond to people who see a connection between your declared ambitions for statewide office and your recent embrace of large, unnecessary residential developer projects like Avendale and Stone Haven?
I will publish your response, or failure to respond to these questions within two weeks at http://pwcbg.org and further publicize the info beyond that as appropriate.  Thank you.

Ralph Stephenson

E-mail from PWCBG co-founder to BOCS Vice Chairman and Brentsville District Supervisor Wally Covington

PWCBG co-founder Ralph Stephenson

Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Vice Chairman Wally Covington

(no response received from Covington)

23 March 2013

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Questions for Sup Covington: Stone Haven, Conflicts of Interest, Corruption
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2013 08:42:06 -0400
From: Ralph Stephenson <stephenrk1@verizon.net>
To: Covington, Wally <wcovington@pwcgov.org>
CC: BOCS, Prince William County <BOCS@pwcgov.org>, GT_Dan Roem <droem@timespapers.com>, GT_Tara Slate Donaldson <tdonaldson@timespapers.com>, bordenj@washpost.com, kpugh@princewilliamtoday.com, editor@observernow.com, jshaw@bristowbeat.com, stacyshaw@bristowbeat.com, hkras@bristowbeat.com

 

Supervisor Covington:

A 13 Mar 2013 Washington Post article titled “Prince William moves forward on development in Linton Hall corridor” reports the following about the BOCS vote to initiate review of Stone Haven:   “About two dozen showed up Tuesday [12 Mar], largely to voice their support for the ‘blended’ approach that they had helped come up with: a mix of housing and employment centers, with a large open space in the middle for playing fields. The site would also include space for a high school, residents’ top concern…  A new plan could mean from 6,000 to 13,000 potential new jobs in retail and office space, and from 600 to 1,600 new housing units, county planners say. Those numbers could change as developers create a detailed plan.  With amenities such as space for a high school and open space for fields, area residents said that the project had more to offer than what’s envisioned in the county’s long-range Comprehensive Plan.  Covington said area residents’ support helped sway him to support the project this time around.”

I have the following questions for you and would appreciate a response as soon as possible:

  • If you really have been and are seeking broad-based community support, why was the meeting to initiate the Stone Haven CPA (Comprehensive Plan amendment) held at 2 pm on a Tuesday (12 Mar) when most people are at work?  And why were large numbers of area residents apparently not informed about the citizens’ meetings in prior months, while developers and their allies were all invited and extremely well represented?
  • Also, if Stone Haven really is to contain as few as 600-1600 new housing units, why so much hoopla, effort, and study?  In fact, do you need a rezoning at all, or is there already zoning for about that many houses in the immediate or surrounding areas?  Or do you and the developers, in reality, plan to make this development many times larger than that — once “developers create a detailed plan,” per the article above.  Perhaps closer to the size of the original Brentswood plan — 6,800 homes — than 600-1600?
  • In 2005-06, you were at multiple events at which Brookfield Homes advocated its infamous and ultimately unsuccessful Brentswood proposal, of which Stone Haven is the sequel (same place, high-density, certain to worsen traffic congestion and school overcrowding).  Yet you never found time to show up at any of the events opposing Brentswood, including some organized by your own county Republican Party, and you repeatedly defended Brentswood, to the point of appearing to be a shill for it and Brookfield Homes.  With that history, your consistently pro-developer voting record (see http://pwcbg.org), the thousands of dollars you’ve received from residential developers, and the fact that you are yourself a big landowner with lots of big landowner friends, why would anyone who knows anything about you believe that “area residents’ support helped sway [you] to support the project [Stone Haven] this time around,” and not just that you’re shilling for the developers yet again — this time for Stone Haven?   Isn’t it intentionally deceptive for you to even suggest such a thing?
  • Have you mentioned to anyone that the high school that is being promised by you and Stone Haven’s developers will, in fact, be empty land, and cost taxpayers over $100M?  Have you mentioned to anyone that if you weren’t pushing development of so many new homes in the area, existing schools wouldn’t be so overcrowded and we wouldn’t need another high school right now?  Have you mentioned to anyone that after Stone Haven is built we’ll need another high school in addition to that one?  In sum, isn’t it true that you’re one of the main causes of the problem that you’re offering to solve, all the while slipping in more and more new homes for your housing developer friends?  Isn’t that a bit disingenuous?  Sounds to me a bit like former U.S. House banking committee Chairman Barney Frank offering banking and housing reforms — after the fact — to prevent the  Great Recession that he, in no small part, helped cause.

I have some additional questions for you about your own serious conflicts of interest on land use issues.  But first please click on the links below for some context.

Covington expresses concern at increasing “pressure” on Vint Hill Road, blames Fauquier County, hints at “four-laning” Vint Hill Road, without mentioning  his own property interests there
(“Official: Vint Hill lights may hinder traffic” by Dan Roem, The Gainesville Times, 2 September 2010,  pp. A1, A5)

  • Do you deny that you’re a big landowner with lots of big landowner friends and that your avid support for many years while a member of the Board of Supervisors of housing developer interests has made you rich and is likely to make you even richer, both in terms of personal wealth and political campaign contributions from developers?
  • Do you believe that you should be making decisions on behalf of hundreds of thousands of PW County citizens in which your judgement could easily be clouded and corrupted by said conflicts of interest?   Wouldn’t good government practice and sound ethical judgement require that you recuse yourself from any decisions that could directly or indirectly financially benefit you personally?  Isn’t to do otherwise in fact encouraging corruption in local government?
  • As in the 13 March Washington Post article above, you frequently say that your avid pro-housing developer policies and voting record are just reflections of the interests of your constituents, and that they “sway” you to support such policies.  But isn’t that, in fact, an acknowledgement that you represent only big landowners, developers, those directly or indirectly tied to housing developers, and/or those expecting special favors from developers and that you ignore or marginalize all the rest of your constituents?  (I personally know hundreds of your constituents in Brentsville District who strongly oppose your pro-housing developer policies, and only a handful who support them.)
  • Building unneeded homes just because developers want them cannibalizes older neighborhoods and their property values and prematurely ages them, leads to indirect taxpayer subsidies of these unneeded and harmful new developments, and most importantly of all causes severe school overcrowding and traffic congestion.  Taxpayers, not developers, pay for the police, fire, water, sewer, roads, schools, and other government infrastructure and services that must support such new developments.  Since you frequently claim to be fiscally conservative, why do you continually support unneeded and harmful taxpayer-subsidized housing, while ensuring that developer proffers to PW county are among the lowest in Northern Virginia?

Note:  For other conflict-of-interest information on yourself, please click on the following links:  Wally Covington   |  conflicts of interest

I will publish your response, or failure to respond to these questions within two weeks at http://pwcbg.org and further publicize the info beyond that, as appropriate.  Thanks.

Yours truly,

Ralph Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
http://pwcbg.org

“Stewart, Harrover, Jones and Johns talk about visions and challenges”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

8 March 2013, p. 18

“Transportation funding and sequestration are two important issues facing Prince William County, Corey Stewart told more than 200 members of Prince William Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon in Continental Events Center, Manassas, on Feb 20.  Stewart is chairman and at-large member of Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

“Also addressing the group were Andy Harrover, Manassas vice-mayor; Frank Jones, mayor of Manassas Park; and Milt Johns, chairman of Prince William County School Board.  Moderator was Bernie Neimeir, president and publisher of Virginia Business magazine.

“Stewart explained that by 2017, Virginia will have no funds for new road construction; by 2018, there will be no money to maintain existing roads.  Since the state will not be able to provide matching funds, it also will lose federal funding.  He suggested his audience put pressure on the General Assembly to address the problem.

” ‘We’re the only jurisdiction in the state that has its own road-building program,’ the speaker pointed out.

” ‘The impact of sequestration will be unbelievable.  It will cost Virginia 200,000 jobs, most in Hampton Roads and in Northern Virginia.’

“Harrover agreed on the impact of sequestration on the area. ‘It will be bad,’ he remarked.  The vice-mayor said an iportant issue in Manassas is keeping a balance between residential and commercial revenues.  He added the city does a good job in this area.

“Jones contended sequestration would cause a loss of 20 percent of area residents’ disposable income and impact sales and gasoline taxes. ‘The impacts will be disproportionately high here,’ Jones explained.  He said the housing market has recovered but questioned what a 20-percent slash in disposable income will mean for the area.  ‘Transportation needs to be in the hands of the localities,’ he commented.

“The main issue facing county schools is growth, according to Johns.  ‘There’s no cap on the number of students,’ he remarked.  He pointed out a population change has necessitated greater emphasis on special education, free or reduced lunches and English as a Second Language (ESOL).  He noted these programs cost more than that of a general education student.

“Asked about visions for their jurisdictions, Stewart contended a road to Dulles International Airport has ‘been a growth factor for a long time.’  He said the bi-county parkway [also known as the tri-county parkway] is important to both Prince William and Loudoun counties, two quick-growing and wealthy jurisdictions.  ‘Any time you drive from here to Loudoun, it’s tough as nails,’  [Stewart said], calling the road network ’19th century.’

“Stewart also reported $58 million will be spent to widen US 1 in eastern Prince William County and a $68-million portion of the road has been improved in the Triangle area.  ‘We’re getting 10,000 new residents each year, and education and transportation are key,’ he observed.

“Harrover agreed the road to Dulles is crucial for Manassas residents.  ‘You can’t get there from here,’ he advised.  ‘It’s all about regional connections.’

“Jones reported Manassas Park ‘is in good shape,’ and that its oldest school dates from 1999.  The jurisdiction also has a new fire station and a new police station.  Manassas Park residents ‘must be able to move’ on area roadways.  He called the region’s road network ‘woeful,’ adding there ‘needs to be a regional approach to transportation.’

“Johns explained the school district is dealing with a changing work force and a focus is being put on careers of the future.  ‘The focus is on technology,’ Johns said, noting the county offers robotics, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, and interactive and on-line courses.’

“Asked how a jurisdiction would get new economic development, Stewart observed that ‘interconnectivity is the key,’ and that jobs that might go to Manassas or Manassas Park should not be seen as a loss to the county.  The chairman said that in 2006, 16 percent of the county’s revenue came from commercial realty.  Today, it’s 23 percent.”

[PWCBG editor’s note:  Many Prince William County citizens, including PWCBG, believe that Prince William County is overly dependent on residential housing for tax revenues, which leads to unnecessarily high tax burdens for county citizens and a  limited, low-opportunity local economy with relatively few high-income jobs and few high-tax-revenue producing businesses.  For more info on that topic, see:   Media Reports On Balanced Growth.   Also note that, per the county’s own revenue records, in 2012 14% of real estate revenue came from commercial real estate taxes and almost all of the rest (82%) came from residential real estate taxes.  So Chairman Stewart’s contention above that commercial real estate now accounts for 23 percent of county tax revenue is demonstrably false.  See attachment, pp. 24 and A9 (overall pp. 30 of 66 and 47 of 66, respectively) for details and historical statistics on the commercial-residential real estate tax ratio:   PWC_Real-Estate-Assessments-Annual-Report-2012.]

“Jones reported Manassas Park set up zones to create incentives for business.  He also said he would like to see VRE bring workers to the area instead of just take local employees elsewhere for their jobs.

“Harrover explained Manassas created a committee of land use and economic development and has ‘a complete package of incentives’ ready for new businesses.  The city also has an economic development director and has reworked its economic development web site, he added.

“Questioned on how technology has improved efficiency, Johns pointed to online education and virtual classes.  He said some students learn best outside a traditional classrom.

“Jones spoke in favor of Internet education, explaining his son went to college with 15 credits.  He said some pupils believe learning is fun.  Manassas Park has set up a technology committee to improve the use of IT and has created a joint meeting with council and school board on the subject.

“Harrover, who does IT consulting as a career, reported the city’s zoning and code enforcement departments have laptops and are mobile.  He added that in the wings is a $1 million program to overhaul IT in  city hall.

“Stewart quipped that one of the advantes of IT is that he now knows when his two sons have homework.  ‘It keeps parents connected,’ he said of the technology.  The county is moving increasingly to cloud computing, which necessitates fewer software upgrades for county computers.”

“At Committee of 100, panelists debate whether county has ‘lost’ its vision”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

15 Feb 2013, p. 21

“Prince William County has skyrocketing property taxes, crowded schools and roads, and its quality of life is slipping, Bob Pugh told the Jan. 30 meeting of Prince William Committee of 100 in Four Points by Sheraton, Manassas.  Topic of the panel discussion was, “Prince William Land Use Planning:  Is Our Vision Slipping?”

“Other panelists were Jeff Kaczmarek, county director of economic development; Sherman Patrick, a professional planner, [land developer,] and former county employee, and John Karhnak, chairman of Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA).

“Pugh, a financial analyst and former senior financial analyst with the county, told his audience of about 45 people, “the county abandoned its vision a decade ago.  He said he used to do fiscal impact analysis work for the county until 2000 and 2001, ‘when the county decided not to do it.’  He added the county’s goal of having commercial development provide 25 percent of the county’s tax base is gone, with commercial properties contributing only 15 percent of the revenue.

” ‘And most commercial development is in low-wage services,’ Pugh added.

“The speaker asserted ‘the average new residential unit built in the county has a $900 annual negative fiscal impact per year.’  He contended the only ways to cover this revenue-negative development [are] to ‘increase taxes, cut the quality of services or get high wage jobs.’  He said the county is cutting services.

“Pugh reported the lack of a balanced tax base led to an uptick in taxes to subsidize new development.  ‘In 2002 and 2003, taxes skyrocketed because of excess residential development that didn’t cover [pay] its way in taxes,’ he said.  ‘We’re building a low-wage service economy in Prince William County.  Population growth outstrips job growth.’

“Pugh contended the largest and fastest growing job sector in the county in the past ten years has been in public administration.  He added the way the county is developing will cause it to lose high-wage IT jobs, and it would become a bedroom community with no room for commercial expansion.

“Kaczmarek, the first speaker, explained one of county’s strengths and a key to its success is its diversity.  Another strong point is its AAA bond rating from the three national bond rating agencies.  The county is first in Virginia and third nationally in job growth, the seventh wealthiest county in the country and one of 100 best communities across the nation for young people, he remarked.  ‘Prince William is not a name well known, but we’ll market it,’ he noted.

“Kaczmarek said the county’s strategic plan for 2013-2017 ‘wants to attract captial investment by diversifying its economic base and in easing the residential tax burden.’  He said the new life science center will be promoted, and that his department would ‘develop a cohesive brand identity.’

“The development director said firms considering locating here want a business-friendly government, access to a labor pool and talent and financial incentives.

“Patrick told his audience goals of the county’s comprehensive plan ‘need to be realistic.’  He added that if it were a good iea to have more upscale restaurants, they’d be here, and that people are not going out to dinnner enough.

“Patrick said there’s a need in the county for mid- to high-rise offices.

” ‘But we’re not there yet,’ he said.

“He contended that not every new home has a negative tax impact on the county, and that the breakeven point would be a home valued at $385,000 or more.  Patrick contended, ‘transportation is our number one problem.  The cheapest way to work is by car.  The cost is less than (mass) transit.’

“In answer to the question on whether the county has lost its vision, he commented, ‘no, it’s not lost its vision.  There’s lots to be done.  Give the planning department more money.’

“Karhnak, chairman of Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA), reported he’s read the county’s entire 1100-page budget.  He said residential real estate taxes provide 85 percent of taxes collected.

” ‘And 27 percent of workers travel an hour or more each day to work, which is three times the national average.  Seventy-five percent of county workers drive to work alone, up from seven percent last year,’ Karhnak noted.

“The speaker said the strategic plan wants more workers working in the county, new jobs, an increase in capital investment and ‘internal awareness of our strengths.’ “

“Experts debate future of PW land use”

by Dan Roem, Gainesville Times

6-12 February 2013, pp. A1, A4

“Determining the future of land use and development in Prince William County depends on who’s making the pitch.

“Last week, four experts in the field shared their thoughts during a forum in Manassas sponsored by the local non-profit Committee of 100.

“Moderator Henry Bibber, a former planning director for Prince William, posed the question of whether the county’s vision is slipping when it comes to future development.

“Two indicated that even if there are problems, there is plenty of potential for better local employment and quality-of-life enhancements as the county continues to expand.

“One, however, did not.  The other [the fourth expert] focused his comments on eastern-end infrastructure needs.

“Economist Bob Pugh, a financial planner, Gainesville business owner and co-founder of [Prince William] Citizens for Balanced Growth [PWCBG], was not optimistic.’

” ‘I am here for the bad news tonight,’ said Pugh.  ‘We abandoned our vision about a decade ago.’

“The statistic in question centered [on] the ideal ratio of 75 percent residential and 25 percent commercial development.  The proper balance is necessary to keep a stable revenue base amid market changes.

“In Prince William, development is now more than 80 percent residential and Pugh questioned whether the county could ever realistically achieve its goal.

“Pugh argued that residential development comes at a net revenue loss for the county of about $900 per unit and contributes to higher tax rates.

“That is because services provided to residents — such as police, roads, and schools — cost more than the money brought into the county by real estate taxes and development proffers.

“Meanwhile, he added that most of the incoming commercial development is ‘going to be low-wage retail’ jobs.

” ‘We’re going to look at a structural deficit of $1.6 million,’ argued Pugh.

“Sherman Patrick, a land use planner [and developer] with the firm Compton and Duling, who formerly worked in the Prince William County Planning Office, countered Pugh’s claim.

“Residences worth more than $385,000 are actually revenue-positive for the county, he said.

“For one thing, a more expensive home doesn’t have more residents or better services than a less-expensive one; it just generates more tax dollars.

“John Karhnak, chairman of the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association, recommended that, in order to bring more jobs to the eastern end of the county, redeveloping the Route 1 corridor is a ‘major issue.’

“That includes transporation, such as road improvements from Quantico to Featherstone Drive, and bringing Metro out to eastern Prince William.

“In fact, he noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) balked at setting up its headquarters in Prince William in part because the county is not Metro-accessible.

“Regarding the county’s future plans in general, he said that ‘we have lots of work that’s been done’ in the planning department, ‘and we need to take advantage’ of that.

“Likewise, the county’s economic development director Jeffery Kaczmarek, advocated for a ‘reverse-commuter’ train that takes workers from Washington, D.C. and its suburbs to Prince William in the morning.

“However, when he mentioned that one transportation solution for the eastern half of the county would be a bi-county parkway, linking Gainesville to Loudoun, many audience members grumbled.

“As for the current state of county employment, Kaczmarek honed in on the idea that the market seeks more Class A office space.

“He stated that the county’s office vacancy rates are actually ‘pretty low’ already and that Fairfax County ‘has twice as much vacant office space’ as Prince William.

“One area of dispute between Pugh and Patrick came regarding the development of townhouses in the area near the former Dominion Racetrack in Manassas.

“Noting that the county originally zoned the land for commercial use, Patrick declared that the Board of Coutny Supervisors is ‘not obligated to change the Comprehensive Plan’ to adjust to a developer’s will.

“Patrick suggested instead that there may be ‘too much’ property in the county zoned for commercial uses:  ‘well beyond what we could ever expect to see in the future.’

“Such a claim is nonsense, according to Pugh.

” ‘I disagree very strongly with you,’ he said.

“Saying the county should hold out for a business to come along, Pugh added, ‘Why do we have to  take townhouses? …  We’re going to have to have some better planning.’

“According to Kaczmarek, the dilemma is whether the county should take an offer on the table or wait for something that may not come any time soon.

” ‘It’s driven by the market more than anything else,’ he said.”

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