Citizens for Balanced Growth

Category: Rezoning Freeze (2007)

Letter to editor

by Supervisor Wally Covington, Bull Run Observer

15 December 2006, p. 19

“Rezonings are by nature a legislative act, one to which the courts have allowed localities ‘wide discretion’ in reviewing these requests.  This 12-month deferral is pro-active.  During that same time period, the Comprehensive Plan, by which we and the courts weigh decisions pertaining to infrastructure — like adequate transportation — will be under review.  The press seems to have missed this second phase of the resolution.”I wish to publicly thank my six colleagues on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors for the unanimous vote to support the Infrastructure Accountability resolution, which I introduced two weeks ago.

“This vote signifies that Prince William County, to the maximum extent possible under Virginia law, will manage the pace of growth in order to ensure that the demands of growth do not outpace the capacity to provide the necessary services and infrastructure.

“Three triggers set this wheel in motion and prompted me to introduce this legislation two weeks ago:  1.)  81.9% of voters backed a $300 million bond referendum to build roads, 2.) by 2013 our bond funding capacity will press against our debt limit capacity, jeopardizing our fiscal plan and AAA+ bond rating.  3.) The Board of Supervisors began the 2008 Comprehensive Plan review process.
“Northern Virginia has enjoyed the regional debate this resolution has stirred up.  The discussion highlights the inequities of the state’s 1927 funding formula for Northern Virginia roads.  We just don’t get our fair share.

“The 2008 Comprehensive Plan review presents a new opportunity for Prince William County.  While I believe that we do not already have a comprehensive adequate public facilities law in Virginia, Prince William does have a chance to refine our 2008 Comprehensive Plan to better express existing law.  (Section 15.2-2232, Code of Virginia)   A 2002 Attorney General’s opinion stated that ‘a Virginia locality may adopt as part of its comprehensive plan a proffer policy that considers an adequate public facilities requirement before applications for rezoning may be approved.’  (AG 00-060, April 29, 2002)

“The current Board of Prince William County Supervisors has, in some cases, already utilized these triggers by requiring that developers proffer road improvements ‘up front,’ and by requiring that roads must be completed before houses are occupied.  But we haven’t consistently tied them into Level of Service (LOS) measures, a key enabling component of adequate public facilities legislation.  In the next Comprehensive Plan review cycle, I believe we can set a standard level of service for roads that all new rezonings must meet before they are approved.  Clearly, proffers were never intended to be the sole income stream for public facilities like roads.  But we recognize that they are an important part of the overall solution.

“This 12-month deferral of new rezonings, coupled with the 2008 Comprehensive Plan review, simply indicates to Richmond that there is a limit as to how far the county can go without help from the state.

“Prince William County also recognizes that debt capacity further limits a locality’s ability to address adequate public facilities like roads, mass transit and overcrowded schools.  Our citizens understand that they have already paid for these roads twice — once in taxes to Richmond and again through upcoming debt service/bonds.

“The public has [a] small window of time — 45-60 days, with one Senator who has requested that it be brought down to 30 days — to lobby Richmond during the next legislative session.

“The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will likely be working all year to refine our 2008 Comprehensive Plan.  We encourage citizens to call, email, or go down to Richmond to express your frustration to your legislators and Governor.

“The General Assembly must respond to this patently obvious need that the gridlocked public expects action from their Governor and legislators in 2007.

“I look forward to continued debate in coming months and to hearing from the public as we work together during the coming year.”

Letter to Editor

by PWCBG’s Robert Pugh,  Potomac News

8 December 2006

“The election for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors is still almost a year away, but the political silly season has already started. After Corey Stewart’s solid win against a very credible opponent for board chairman running on a platform of reigning in uncontrolled development, Supervisor Covington has now proposed an unfeasible ‘moratorium’ on [rezonings for] new housing construction. Other board members are also trying to jump on that bandwagon.

“Supervisor Covington knows this gimmick will not work. He wrote — in an e-mail on April 13 — responding to growing opposition to the proposed Brentswood development:

“‘Fairfax County has already unsuccessfully tried to implement some of the suggestions …, e.g. a moratorium on new building, or no rezoning without adequate public facilities in place. In fact, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that public facilities should follow rather than precede development.

“‘Virginia property owners have a vested right to develop properties. Local governments cannot restrict this right for a greater public good or require property owners to construct adequate public facilities, e.g. schools, roads, libraries, to support their developments.’

“On the same evening Supervisor Covington put forward his resolution, he also voted in favor of adding 1,400 houses to the Harbor Station development. On Oct. 24 he voted for 220 new residential units in the Caton’s Ridge development in Occoquan, opposing then-Occoquan Supervisor Stewart.

“Creating land use policy that serves the broad public interest is much more complicated than taking either extreme position of catering to the residential development industry’s interests, or grandstanding to call for no development at all. It is a long-term process that requires mature judgment, leadership and consistent, balanced action on behalf of the entire community, which includes both developers and citizens.

“Prince William County will soon revise its Comprehensive Plan for land use. This document guides future development in our county. In fact, denying a rezoning request that is consistent with the Comp Plan is extraordinarily difficult for the board. If a pro-development board succeeds in quietly restructuring our Comp Plan to favor the residential development industry, promoting balanced development and economic growth in Prince William County could be rendered virtually impossible. Citizens paying close attention to the details of what the board does with the Comp Plan is vastly more important than applauding specious, unworkable calls to stop residential building.

“Our job as citizens is to ensure that the rest of the Board knows that we are watching their actions carefully, especially in the Comprehensive Plan revision.”

“Supervisors unanimously support freeze on rezonings in 2007”

by Timothy Dwyer, The Washington Post

6 December 2006, page B1

“Prince William County supervisors, in an effort to spur Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly to take action to ease gridlock, unanimously approved a radical plan yesterday that halts construction of residential development for a year in the state’s second-largest county.

“The board, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, voted for the proposal from Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) to freeze any approval of rezoning requests for new houses in the coming year. More than 15 people spoke against the proposal, and one person spoke in favor of it.

” ‘This vote signifies that Prince William County, to the maximum extent possible under Virginia law, will manage the pace of growth in order to ensure that the demands of growth do not outpace the capacity to provide the necessary services and infrastructure,’ Covington said. All board members will be up for reelection next year.

“It was unclear last night whether there would be a legal challenge to the freeze. Covington said that the board can take up to 12 months to approve new housing that requires its permission to be rezoned. The new measure states that the supervisors will take the full 12 months before considering any new rezoning plans.

“Opposition came from the building industry, the business community, residents and politicians. Some warned that the freeze would hurt the county’s economy; others opposed it because they said it would not slow growth enough.

” ‘I think I am going to be forced to support the legislation,’ Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said before the vote. After the vote, she said:  ‘It doesn’t do anything. This is a nothing.’

“The freeze on approving residential development will take effect Jan. 1 and expire Dec. 31. Covington called his plan ‘proactive’ and said that he hoped it would motivate the governor and the legislature to work to relieve the chokehold that traffic congestion has on Northern Virginia residents. ‘We just don’t get our fair share from Richmond,’ he said.

“County planners said last week that it was not clear how many residential units would actually be put on hold. Steve Griffin, director of the county’s planning board, said that 26,400 housing units have been approved but not built. He said some of the approvals date back to the 1950s and 1960s.

“When the supervisors opened their meeting to the public for comments, a long line quickly formed, snaking its way from the front to the rear of the chamber.

“Donna Snellings, chairwoman of the board of the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce, warned the supervisors that the proposal would tarnish the reputation of the county in the business community.

” ‘We have heard concern expressed from those who work to attract new business to Prince William that the moratorium is a sudden departure from the well-thought-out planning with public input and good management for which Prince William is known,’ Snellings said.

“Covington proposed the freeze last month at the first meeting presided over by the board’s new chairman, Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan), who won a special election last month after campaigning on a platform to slow growth in the county. Stewart will serve as chairman for a year and will have to run again next fall to keep his job.

” ‘This has been a big issue for me,’ Stewart said before the vote. ‘This is not a cure-all, and this is not a long-term solution.’

“Victor D. Bras, chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, called the board’s action ’empty grandstanding’ and charged that it was motivated more by next year’s election than by a desire to spark action on transportation issues.

” ‘Covington and his colleagues should not hide behind the fig leaf of a resolution that stacks up rezoning applications like cordwood until after next year’s election,’ Bras said.

“The two Democrats on the board, Barg and Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), voted for the freeze.

“Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said the proposal didn’t go far enough. ‘It doesn’t do exactly what I wanted it to do,’ Nohe said. ‘But the way it was originally written was not going to be legally enforceable. While it doesn’t do everything I hope it would do in slowing down growth, it does do something. It’s a start.’

“Tammy Cesario of Gainesville, who said she owned a small construction business, warned the board that its action would simply send developers to surrounding counties and hurt small businesses such as hers.

” ‘By implementing this, you will be shutting Prince William County down,’ she told the board before the vote. ‘Have you considered all the small businesses you will be putting out of business? This will be your legacy. You will be known as the board that, with a flick of a pen, killed the county.’ “

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