Citizens for Balanced Growth

Category: Debate Over Land Use Chapter of County Comprehensive Plan (2007-2010)

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

by Rose Murphy,Bull Run Observer

12 February 2010, pp. 47-48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail exchanges between PWCBG, Chairman Stewart, Chairman Stewart’s Chief of Staff, and Planning Commission Chairman

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:

Ralph,

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

 

Laurie A. Cronin

Chief of Staff

Chairman Corey A. Stewart

Prince William County Board of Supervisors

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

lcronin@pwcgov.org

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

 

Corey:

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.

Corey
————————–
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

 

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

Speech to Board of County Supervisors on 2 Feb 2010

by Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

1.  Members of the Board:  Thank you for all your service to the county.  Tonight, 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 reasonable ways — in two areas of the county.

2.  As has been said and as subsequent events have proven so many times before, more residential housing 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 neighborhood (At last count, there were still at least 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 you) 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:

1) massive housing industry overcapacity and oversupply (probably the single biggest cause);

2) 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;

3) dishonest and predatory lending practices by many mortgage lenders to people who couldn’t afford the homes they were being sold; and

4) the financially toxic effect of these millions of now-non-performing (or bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors.

3.  Supervisor Covington, you represent my district, Brentsville District.  For many years you have supported every residential development I can think of — from Brentswood to Avendale to bringing sewer lines to the Rural Crescent, which is supposed to be off-limits to residential developers, so you can develop it, too.  You appointed a developer to the  Land Use Advisory Committee to make sure that residential developer interests were given preferential treatment.  You do not represent the interests of the vast majority of your constituents, though most are not yet aware of that.  Are you prepared to tell your constituents now that you really don’t care what they think because you’re a big landowner with lots of big landowner friends looking to make a killing off of taxpayer-subsidized real estate and county government bailouts of residential developers?  Are you willing to tell your ordinary constituents that the 10s of thousands of dollars of  campaign contributions you’ve received mostly from developers are far more important to you than their interests?  If so, then vote for the LUAC or Planning Staff Land Use plan.  Otherwise, if you respect the wishes of your ordinary constituents at least to some degree, I strongly urge you to vote for the Planning Commission Land Use recommendations.

Let there be no doubt:  It is in no way ethical or humanitarian or fiscally responsible or pro-free-market to support county taxpayer bailouts of residential developers and big landowners so they can build more unneeded and economically harmful housing.  Let’s call it by its real name:  political corruption and an abuse of supervisors’ sacred public trust.  Please support the Planning Commission  Land Use recommendations.  Thank you.

E-mail communications between County Planning Commissioner, PWCBG and county citizens

Gary Friedman, County Planning Commissioner

Ralph Stephenson and Bob Pugh, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

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

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: PW Supervisors 2 Feb Vote on Adding ~57,000 Homes, Most of them in Haymarket-Bristow
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 13:33:33 -0500
From: Kathy Stephenson <stephenroe1@comcast.net>
To: Stephenson, Ralph <stephenrk1@comcast.net>

All:  Please spread the word and work to defeat the county government’s plan to further crowd schools and roads.  This plan will also subsidize residential developers yet again with your 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, the county still had a backlog of 25-30,000 approved, but not-yet-built homes.)   Furthermore, the plan will damage the county tax base, which is currently about 85% residential (higher taxes for you) and only 15% commercial.  And It will further harm the environment of beautiful (or soon-to-be formerly-beautiful) western Prince William County.

Below is a message I received 25 Jan 2010 from the Chairman of the County Planning Commission, the advisory body to the Board of County Supervisors.  See also recommendations and map below that.

My apologies if this message went to some of you twice.  : )  Ralph

____________________________________________________________

Ralph and Bob –

Anything you can do to help get the word out will be appreciated.  See below.  Thanks much.

Gary

On Tuesday, January 19th, after two years of collecting input from advisory bodies and planning staff, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors held what it indicated will be its only public hearing on what could possibly become the two most important Comprehensive Plan documents it considers during the current board’s tenure:  The Long Range Land Use and the Transportation chapters.

As the At-Large representative and current Chairman of the county’s Planning Commission, I have been closely involved in this process from the beginning.  Following the board hearing on the 19th, I received several comments from planning commissioners and numerous comments from citizens concerned about the direction the board seems to be headed with these two chapters.  I would like to share some of these concerns.

From all indications, the board seems to be headed for adoption of the planning staff text recommendations on these two chapters at its February 2nd meeting, with perhaps some minor “wordsmithing” modifications.  Citizens should know that the Planning Commission carefully considered the texts for both these chapters and found the staff recommendations problematic, particularly in the land use chapter.  None of these concerns have been addressed.  Space constraints here prevent a full discussion, so I will mention just a few of the major concerns with the land use chapter.  The planning staff text:

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.

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?

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 it 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.

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.
Citizens who care about what the future of Prince William County will look like should let their supervisors know of their concerns before the board’s February 2nd meeting, when it plans to act on these chapters.

Gary C. Friedman
Chairman of the Prince William County Planning Commission.

____________________________________________________________


Additional note from Ralph Stephenson:

RECOMMENDATION:  a) Contact all the BOCS Supervisors (the county’s land use decision makers) and let them know of your opposition to ~57,000 more unneeded homes,  ~33,000 of them in the Haymarket-Bristow-Manassas area. Here is their e-mail address:  BOCS@co.prince-william.va.us   It helps them to have your opposition as political cover to vote against unsavory plans that they’re under heavy pressure from powerful political interests to vote for.  b) Speak against the PW County Planning Staff’s Long-Range Land Use and Transportation Chapter updates to the county Comprehensive Plan at 7:30 pm on 2 Feb.  The meetings will be held at the McCoart Building at the county offices on Prince William Parkway.  (Note:  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 county’s outrageous Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) recommendations described in this and the next paragraph.)

The [linked documents] at the bottom of this e-mail, which I took off the county website, summarize the current plan.  There are  19 planned Centers of Community — 11 in the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas area, and 8 at the east end of the county.  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.

You might be interested to know that making this plan part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, as proposed, will apparently fast-track the approval process for all residential development in the Centers of Community.

It’s ironic that the county is bringing this up for discussion 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 (bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors.

Centers of Community Locator Map
Centers of Commerce Locator Map

“Some like more transparency for county appointees”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

21 August 2009, p 4

“If you want to serve on a Prince William County board or commission that advises the county on land use, you have to file a financial disclosure statement, members of the county’s board of supervisors voted unanimously Aug. 4.

“The new requirement already has resulted in the resignation of Ann Burgess from the agricultural and forestry districts advisory committee, Wally Covington, (R-Brentsville), told the meeting.  The supervisor explained the committee resignation came about because Burgess ‘was upset regarding the disclosure form she has to sign.’ Her husband represents Brentsville District on the county’s planning commission.

“This disclosure form adopted by supervisors says non-salaried citizen members of any board, commission or council that supervisors might create to advise the board or the planning commission on land use policies affecting zoning or density of specific identifiable parcels in the county will be required to file a statement of economic interests prior to assuming office and annually thereafter.

“The form is due by Jan. 15 each year or prior to assuming office or employment and would be available to the public under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.  The clerk to the board of supervisors would retain the forms for five years.  The requirement to disclose is no retroactive.  Those needing to fill out the form include school board members, board of county supervisors, planning commission, board of zoning appeals, Prince William County Service Authority (PWCSA), county attorney county executive and deputy county executives and real estate assessors.

“Also completing the disclosure forms will be the finance director, planning director, the Dale City Sanitary District administrator and assistant administrator, the director of economic development, general manager of PWCSA, director and deputy director of the park authority and the director of the department of development services.

“The amendment to county code also adds that disclosure forms need to be filled out by members of the agricultural and forestry districts advisory committee, the architectural Review Board and the historical commission.  Jan Cunard, at-large member of the county’s historical commission, said Aug. 5 the disclosure form ‘is a good thing, and it should have been done a long time ago.’  She added she believes there are loopholes in the disclosure requirements, but this is a good first for step.

“Mike May, (R-Occoquan District), and Covington in March proposed changes to the county’s conflict-of-interest ordinance.

“Angela Horan, county attorney, told the Aug. 4 supervisors’ meeting that state law doesn’t give the county much authority to customize its local ordinance, but that ‘members of certain committees can be asked to file the short form.’  She added that supervisors can decide which committees will be required to complete the form.

“Covington noted county staff would report to the board in September or October on which other committees should be asked to disclose.  Public comment will be sought on this, he added.

“May made the motion to amend the existing code, noting the changes would bring more transparency to local government.”

E-mail exchanges between Ralph Stephenson, BOCS, and Stewart’s Chief of Staff Laurie Cronin

14-20 December 2008

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

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: BOB, FYI — Re: We Strongly Oppose the CoC Proposal
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2008 22:02:04 -0500
From: Ralph Stephenson <stephenrk1@comcast.net>
To: Pugh, Bob <bob@insightwealth.com>

Stewart, Corey A. wrote:

Mr. Stephenson,

 

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/

 

Planning Commission members are drafting what one member characterizes as the most significant land use proposal in Prince William in years.

 

Under this latest Comprehensive Plan recommendation, supervisors would name certain areas of the county Urban Mixed Use or Village Mixed Use zones with the emphasis on rehabilitation and commercial development.

 

The proposal brought forth at the Planning Commission last week specifies two such areas: Yorkshire, located between Manassas Park and Fairfax County along the Va. 28 path, and the entire U.S. 1 corridor, from Belmont Bay to Quantico. Supervisors would still hold final authority on which sites are zoned UMU and VMU.

 

But for builders who meet certain criteria, these Comp Plan changes could bring significant benefits: They would not have to make proffers part of their application package for these sites.

 

“This absolutely revolutionizes how the county will grow,” said Gary Friedman, the Planning Commission’s at-large member responsible for bringing forth the idea at last week’s meeting.

 

In short, the plan requires a “concurrent percentage phasing” of the residential and commercial components of mixed-use developments, according to a fact sheet for the Planning Commission. That is, the sheet reads, “if Phase One of a project calls for 20 percent of the residential component it must also require at least 20 percent of the non-residential component.”

 

The intent, Friedman said, is to ensure developments in these zoned areas don’t slow or stop with housing, but rather bring forth the revenue-producing side of mixed-use projects — the commercial — in rapid fashion.

 

Other specifics of the recommendations: Development proposals must all focus on rehabilitation. They must span at least 100 acres. And they must not exceed the cap for residential. Only 25 percent of the development plan can include housing, according to the Comp Plan recommendations.

 

“These projects that come in under the first two conditions … will be considered by the county to be in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan and will be proffer-free,” Friedman said.

 

The proposal, he said, is win-win, as it protects the Rural Crescent, cleans up blighted areas of the county, and brings commercial development to areas of the county where some infrastructure already exists.

 

“This will have a major impact on the tax structure of the county,” he added.

 

Another plus is the Planning Commission’s latest recommendations bypass the politics and ethics complaints that undercut an earlier proposal. That plan from Land Use Advisory Committee members identified overlay areas on a map as Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community that were characterized by high-density, mixed uses that furthered “smart growth” principles.

 

One version of that proposal also recommended supervisors pursue a Transfer of Development Right program giving developers the ability to trade building rights for higher densities.

 

Two of the LUAC members were developers; some in the community complained these developers purposely pushed through a land use policy for Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor consideration that would impact their private properties and lead to personal financial gain. In response, one developer, as well as a couple of his committee colleagues, said all LUAC discussions were open and above board, and the locations of the builders’ properties were common knowledge.

 

John Stirrup, R-Gainesville and vice chair of the supervisors, ultimately sought investigation of the issue by the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Manassas and the attorney general’s office in Richmond.

 

“One big thing with this plan,” said Friedman, about his current proposal, “is that … it removes the problems associated with the LUAC from the [Comp Plan] discussions and just concentrates on the policy implications. All the Centers’ language is gone. There’re no Centers of Community, no Centers of Commerce, all the dots are gone from the map … and the TDRs are gone.”

 

Friedman’s proposal instructing staff to change and refine the language of the Comp Plan land-use chapter passed the Planning Commission with a 7-1 vote. Both boards — planning as well as supervisors — still have to consider and approve the final text.

 

Staff writer Cheryl Chumley can be reached at 703-670-1907.

 

I hope you find this information helpful.

 

Thank you,

 

Laurie

 

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: Sunday, December 14, 2008 9:37 AM
To: Caddigan, Maureen S.; Covington, W. S. Wally; Nohe, Marty E.; Stewart, Corey A.; Gainesville District; Jenkins, John D.; May, Michael C.; Principi, Frank J.
Cc: Stephenson, Kathy; Stephenson, Kate; Stephenson, Daniel; Stephenson, Benjamin
Subject: We Strongly Oppose the CoC Proposal

 

Members of the Board of County Supervisors:  Thank you for all you do to serve the county, and Happy Holidays to all of you.

 

We’d like to share with you excerpts from an e-mail exchange in late November 2008 with a friend regarding the Centers of Community/Centers of Commerce proposal put forward by the Land Use Advisory Commission.

 

We had e-mailed to him the following information:  …”An advisory body to the county — following behind-the-scenes lobbying by local residential developers for many months, with virtually no effort to keep citizens informed or to receive broad-based input from them — is proposing that at least 30-35,000 homes (likely to accommodate about 100,000 people) be built in the Haymarket-Gainesville-Bristow-Manassas area in the coming years.  If this does not sound to you like a good idea, I strongly urge you to get involved…”

 

He responded:  “…Thanks for keeping me in the loop on these issues. Unfortunately, I am out of town this week and will be unable to attend the [3 December Planning Commission] meeting.  As usual, hard working citizens will be under-represented due to our efforts to make a living and grow the economy…”

 

We in turn responded to him that we shared his frustration that ordinary citizens have to so frequently defend themselves against outrageous proposals like this one and the infamous Brentswood plan.

 

We the undersigned …  strongly recommend that AT MOST only one or two Centers of Commerce be added to the CompPlan now, IF AND WHERE THE EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE CAN SUPPORT THEM, and that no Centers of Community be added. With 20-30,000 homes approved but not yet built and thousands of homes in foreclosure in the county, only a fool or someone who stands to gain personally, to the detriment of the county as a whole, would suggest that we should now fast-track approval for 75,000 new homes (meaning ~225,000 people) by putting this in the CompPlan. Yet that is what this plan for 19 Centers of Community and 6 Centers ofCommerce indeed proposes.

 

Taxpayers will pay through the nose for this plan.  How will they pay?  Through:  1) ever-worsening traffic congestion (note recent Forbes article on Linton Hall having the worst commute in the country:
http://www.forbes.com/vehicles/2008/12/09/commute-traffic-town-forbeslife-cx_jb_1209commute.html);  2) increasingly overcrowded public schools; 3) declining property values in existing neighborhoods (oversupply drives down the value of your home and can eventually lead to older neighborhoods becoming blighted unnecessarily); 4) further damage to the county tax base (commercial  development subsidizes the tax base, while almost all residential development results in higher taxes for all of us); and 5) further adverse effects on quality-of-life issues, including the environment.

 

Again, we strongly recommend that AT MOST only one or two Centers of Commerce be added to the CompPlan now, IF AND WHERE THE EXISTINGINFRASTRUCTURE CAN SUPPORT THEM, and that no Centers of Community be added.

Ralph Stephenson

Kathy Stephenson

(etc.)

E-mail alert from PWCBG to county citizens regarding Centers of Commerce/Community proposal

by Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

26 Nov 2008

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: PW County Citizen Alert: I Strongly Urge You To Get Involved
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2008 14:04:54 -0500
From: Ralph Stephenson <stephenrk1@comcast.net>
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

All:  The county — following behind-the-scenes lobbying by local residential developers for many months, with virtually no effort to keep citizens informed or to receive broad-based input from them — is proposing that at least 30-35,000 homes (accommodating about 100,000 people) be built in the Haymarket-Gainesville-Bristow-Manassas area in the coming years.  If this does not sound to you like a good idea, I strongly urge you to get involved.

You can get involved by contacting the Board of County Supervisors.  I urge you to send e-mails opposing this idea, at least as currently written, to all eight members of the Board.  Here are e-mail addresses.

http://www.pwcgov.org/default.aspx?topic=040050000940000442

I also urge you to speak against this proposal at the Prince William County Planning Commission meeting on 3 Dec, Wednesday at 7 pm at the Board of Supervisors Chambers in the McCoart Building of the County Complex off the PW County Parkway.  (The Planning Commission is the primary land-use advisory body to the Board of Supervisors.)  I intend to be there to speak and would be happy to go early to sign up by 6:00 pm anyone else who would like to speak.  Let me know if you’d like me to do this for you.  Each speaker is limited to three minutes. There will almost certainly be a follow-up public hearing in January or later at which the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will vote on and decide the issue.  Please strongly consider speaking at that meeting as well.

If you have any questions, please let me know.  And please share this message with any of your friends/neighbors who you think would be interested.

It is my impression that you would like to receive e-mail alerts about major actions by your county government that affect you.  If not, please let me know right away so I can take you off the mailing list.

For those of you who were asking or who might be interested, here are links to info on the county Centers of Community Proposal.  The first is specific info.  The second is the homepage for Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth. (Note:  In this plan, the county is also proposing 6 “Centers of Commerce“, which have mixed housing, retail, and other commercial.  My view is that planning now for 1 or 2 of these in the county — maybe more later — could be reasonable, depending on a number of factors, including whether they are located around infrastructure that can handle them.)

pwcbg.org : Centers of Community/Commerce
http://pwcbg.org

Further info on the Centers of Community proposal and its likely impact is included below.


The county is proposing sweeping changes to how it accommodates future growth by designating 19 locations in the county as “Centers of Community”.  Centers of Community are  large areas (reportedly about one square mile) that are specifically planned for high-density housing.

The screenshot at the bottom of this e-mail, which I took off the county website, summarizes the current plan.  There are  19 planned Centers of Community — 11 in the Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Manassas area, and 8 at the east end of the county.  If each of these 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.

See this link, noting particularly the land use update, for more info:
http://www.co.prince-william.va.us/default.aspx?topic=040073001410004148

You might be interested to know that making this plan part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, as proposed, will effectively fast-track the approval process for all residential development in the Centers of Community.

I believe that nothing like this should be allowed to slip thru without thorough citizen input and thorough study and publicizing of its impact on:  1) traffic congestion; 2) overcrowding in schools; 3) property values in existing neighborhoods (oversupply drives down the value of your home and can eventually lead to older neighborhoods becoming blighted unnecessarily); 4) the county tax base (commercial development subsidizes the tax base while almost all residential development results in higher taxes for you); and 5) other quality-of-life issues including the environment.  Note:  Relative to the county tax base, all but the most expensive homes in the county are a net drain on county services and tax revenue.  This means that ultimately as a taxpayer you indirectly subsidize all the other, non-high-income housing, which the county, already glutted with thousands of foreclosed and unsold homes, doesn’t even need.  (By the way, those thousands of foreclosed and unsold homes can themselves become a significant tax burden on county taxpayers.)  And at last count, there were still 25-30,000 approved, but not-yet-built homes in the county.

It’s ironic that the county is bringing this up for discussion at the very time that the U.S. is in the middle of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis brought on by, among other things, massive housing oversupply, predatory and dishonest lending practices by many mortgage lenders to people who couldn’t afford the homes they were being sold, and the financially toxic effect of these millions of now-non-performing (bad) loans on the books of banks and other investors. (Forbes magazine reported 2.2 million foreclosures in the U.S. in 2007 alone.)

Centers of Community Locator Map

Centers of Commerce Locator Map

 

“Land-use body faces scrutiny”

by Cheryl Chumley, Bull Run Observer

7 November 2008

“Prince William County’s top prosecutor said Thursday his office is going forth with an investigation into conflict-of-interest issues surrounding certain land-use committee members and their alleged ability to gain financially from their positions.

“Committee members, meanwhile, say those accusations are off-base.

“The issue began in May 2007, when the Board of County Supervisors appointed eight citizens to a Land Use Advisory Committee [LUAC] to update one chapter of the county’s Comprehensive Plan. State code requires county governments to review Comp Plans every five years and revise or update as needed.

“Two of these appointees were developers.

“In April 2008, the LUAC members brought forth Smart Growth recommendations — as they were commissioned to do at the outset — that involved the creation of Centers of Commerce and Centers of Community. Part of this ‘Smart Growth’ strategy was to target certain areas for high-density development.

“It was the chosen locations for these proposed density increases that became problematic.

“On the heels of citizen complaints, Board of Supervisors vice chair John Stirrup, R-Gainesville, asked county attorney Ross Horton last month to investigate whether the proposed land-use changes included properties owned by the two developers on the LUAC, whether they disclosed their interests in line with state law, and whether their potential to benefit financially from these recommendations violated conflict of interest rules.

“In a letter dated Oct. 15, Horton put the matter onto Paul Ebert, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, for investigation. A week and a-half later, Ebert said he still hadn’t decided whether to go forward with formal questioning.

“On Thursday, however, he stated otherwise.

” ‘I’m trying to determine what interest in those properties those people have and then decide whether the [conflict of interest] statute applies,’ he said, confirming that his office was investigating the issue.

Stirrup’s letter

“The timing of Ebert’s decision to investigate came around the same time frame as when Stirrup mailed his own letter to the Commonwealth Attorney requesting official action. But Stirrup also sent a copy of this letter to the Attorney General in Richmond. In it, Stirrup laid out several points that begged for investigation and reminded that ‘this is not the first time possible abuse of the Citizens Advisory Committee process has surfaced in Prince William County,’ the letter read.

“A similar scandal involving conflict of interest issues for committee appointees reared in 2000, Stirrup wrote, and Ebert’s subsequent investigation then found violations of the spirit, if not letter, of the law had occurred. This LUAC case is akin [to the 2000 conflict of interest allegations] in that ‘the basic disclosure, improper influence and participation issues seem to have close similarities,’ he wrote.

“Stirrup also explained in his letter his reasons for bringing the Attorney General’s office into the issue. Ebert, he wrote, has a ‘longstanding public association’ with the very same public official who appointed one developer to the LUAC.

” ‘Given that fact,’ Stirrup wrote, ‘it would seem prudent to suggest that engagement of an independent outside public prosecutor might serve to clear any public perceptions or misperceptions in this regard.’

“When asked about this letter and what finally led to his decision to pursue rather than drop the matter, Ebert said he had not heard from the Attorney General and that he chose to go forth with the investigation because it was his job.

” ‘That’s what I do,’ he said. ‘I investigate anybody. If somebody made a complaint alleging certain criminal complaints, I investigate it.’

“LUAC members, meanwhile, say the conflict of interest accusations have no legs.

“David Christiansen said he did not know the two developers personally on the committee prior to their appointments. But their experiences and knowledge proved valuable in the formation of land-use recommendations, especially those regarding the identification of commercial development areas, he said. Christiansen also said that from the outset, committee members were informed of the developers’ backgrounds.

” ‘It even came out they had some property [in the discussed areas],’ Christiansen said. ‘Everything was pretty much above board … and they didn’t have any direct influence. Obviously, they wanted certain things to happen to benefit them.’

Personal interest

“But all committee members took a personal interest in the outcomes of the LUAC, he said, and were even asked to state their individual goals in early meetings.

” ‘My agenda was preserving the Rural Crescent,’ Christiansen said. ‘And my feeling was that knowing there were developers on the committee just added something to discussions.’

“Fellow committee member Tom Kopko, meanwhile, said that ‘by and large, the committee acted unanimously,’ so the policy recommendations and accompanying maps that emerged for Planning Commission and supervisors review represented the views of eight, not two.

“Mark Granville-Smith, one of the developers on the committee, said he would be happy to discuss the issue with Ebert as the investigation progressed. But he also added that the entire committee process was open to the public, that the meetings were recorded, and that the recommendations that came forth not only followed Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor guidelines to create some Smart Growth strategies, but that were just that — recommendations. All Comp Plan changes are still subject to final board approval.

“Moreover, Granville-Smith said, the committee simply recommended overlay areas on the map. Each development proposal for these areas would still have to go through the normal Planning Commission and Boardof Supervisor process for approval, which includes public hearing, he said.

“The other developer on the committee, Charles Rector [of Weber-Rector, Inc.], did not return a telephone call for comment.

“Staff writer Cheryl Chumley can be reached at 703-670-1907.”

“Planners ok comp plan housing changes; land-use and transpo need more work”

by Rose Murphy, Bull Run Observer

31 October 2008, pp 16-17

“Revisions to the land use and transportation chapters of Prince William County’s comprehensive plan will be coming back to the county’s Planning Commission December 3. At its October 8 special session, the commission agreed unanimously that the chapters needed additional work and clarification. A Planning Commission work session was set for Oct. 15 on the proposed revisions.

“By a 5 to 3 vote, commissioners recommended approving changes to the comprehensive plan’s housing chapter. This chapter is set for a public hearing before Prince William Board of County Supervisors Dec. 2.

“State code requires the Planning Commission to review the comprehensive plan every five years to determine if amendments are needed. The plan last was revised in 2003.

“In May 2007, the county’s Board of Supervisors named an eight-man Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) to study changes to the land use chapter. Other committees were set up to study the transportation and housing chapters.

“The LUAC committee met at least twice each month for 11 months, and was chaired by Tom Kopko. Each member of the Board of Supervisors named a representative to LUAC.

“During the Oct. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting, John Stirrup, (R-Gainesville), asked residents to attend the special Planning Commission meeting the following night. He asserted there were several land use changes proposed, including designating ‘12,566 acres of urban town center development…under the guise of 25 centers of commerce or centers of community throughout the county.’  He added he’d heard from several citizens about a possible conflict of interest of some members of LUAC, and questioned whether decisions made by them ‘may have personal benefit to them’ if the land use comp plan changes are instituted.

“Stirrup asked Ross Horton, county attorney, to investigate the possible conflict of interest, but Horton noted such an investigation or inquiry would have to be done by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. The board agreed to have the Commonwealth Attorney check into the matter.

“The land use plan says centers of commerce ‘would be planned urban town centers where a variety of activities with a regional draw allows people to work, shop, dine, live and enjoy entertainment.’ These centers would have easy access to major transportation hubs, commuter rail, express bus service and commuter parking.

“LUAC defined a center of community as ‘neighborhood centers for residences to live, shop, dine, recreate and congregate.’ They should contain a mix of uses, with low to mid-rise offices serving a local market, neighborhood-serving retail, high- and low-density housing and institutional uses.

“The Board of Supervisors at its May 20 meeting decided unanimously to initiate the land use and housing updates to the comp plan. But Marty Nohe, (R-Coles), noted that the part of the plan dealing with semi-rural residential (SRR) uses ‘needs a lot of love.’

“David McGettigan of the county’s Planning Office told the Oct. 8 meeting the land use plan contains six centers of commerce and 19 centers of community.

“More than 50 people addressed the Oct. 8 meeting, speaking for and against the land use and transportation chapter changes. Only two county residents spoke on the housing chapter.

“David Blake, Brentsville District, told the hearing tourism is the second largest industry in Virginia. He added that making U.S 29 a six-lane highway in the Buckland area will ‘jeopardize Buckland’s integrity.’

“Laurie Wieder, president of Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she’d reviewed the comp plan chapters under discussion, adding ‘We say yes to the centers of commerce and centers of community as a strong planning tool.’ She noted she favored flexibility in the planning and zoning process in the county.

“Mark Granville-Smith, Brentsville District, the Woodbridge appointee to the LUAC and a county developer, asserted it ‘was no secret’ he ‘was in the building business.’ He said he was proud to have served on the LUAC, and that the committee had had ‘lots of input from citizens.’ He added, ‘I can assure you that I had no interest in property that was not disclosed.’ He added smart growth is ‘difficult to understand.’

“Mary Ann Ghadban, a commercial real estate broker, told the hearing business wouldn’t come to the county because it has no identification or destination. She added the centers ‘would create the allure.’

“Bryanna Altman, Coles District, explained she supported the centers of commerce, but not their locations. She recommended involving professional consultants who use smart growth methods.

“Bob Weir asserted that parts of the plan were flawed. He said the plan ‘is tainted by allegations of improprieties,’ and asked recommendations on the chapters be deferred.

“John Dawson, Brentsville District, recommended concentrating on improving the US 1 corridor. ‘This could be the gateway to Prince William. Make it a showcase. Start here. We’re missing the boat by spreading development across the county,’ Dawson contended.

“Michele Trenum, Brentsville District, said that, as a daughter of a commercial real estate broker, she respects the development community, ‘but when people pursue their own personal business in drafting the plan, we lack the balance required for public trust.

” ‘When the fox guards the hen house, you got a problem, but when the fox gets out his pencil and draws up the plans for the hen house, you’ve got big problems,’ Trenum noted.

“She added she was not criticizing LUAC as a group, but that conflict of interest laws ‘simply say if a LUAC member has a personal or business interest in a piece of land, he cannot discuss or vote on any change for that land.’

“Trenum said there is no problem with a developer serving on LUAC.

” ‘However, it is not fine to have that developer discussing or voting on his own land,’ she contended.

“Ralph Stephenson, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, noted there would be 13 centers in the western part of the county, and 12 in the east. He said the centers could bring 225,000 more people to the county. He added that most homes are a net financial drain on the county.

” ‘I’m on the mailing list for all county information, and I never saw anything about this,’ Stephenson said. ‘The publicity was not sufficient. There should be a thorough public study of the true cost [before] this is approved.’

“Greg Ayers, Manassas, said proposed center sites ‘were plopped down and called a plan… It’s a concept disguised as a plan.’ He asked the Planning Commission not to approve the land use plan without ‘detailed information on the centers.’ “

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