“Board looks at new ways to preserve Rural Crescent” by Hillary Chester, Prince William Times, 30
“Board looks at new ways to preserve Rural Crescent” by Hillary Chester, Prince William Times, 30
(Also published as: “Guest Opinion: Corey Stewart can’t stick to political principles” by InsideNova, 23 December 2014)
In 2006 you strongly opposed Brentswood (the predecessor of the pending Stone Haven and Prince William Station residential developments.) You pointed out then and for a year or so afterward that “when we approve large developments, we are essentially approving a tax increase” and that the county’s housing boom has “hurt the average person”. (See: Parties Nominate Candidates for Pr William Seat and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8XDSKrNzs). BUT NOT LONG THEREAFTER YOU REVERSED COURSE 180 DEGREES AND BEGAN RELENTLESSLY CHAMPIONING RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPER CAUSES, including Avendale and Stone Haven, as well as a major change in direction beginning 2009-10 by the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) on land use that seemed to allow development virtually “anywhere, anytime” and allowed fast-tracked approval of developer land use requests. (See: Fast-Tracking Developers )
You also talked in 2007 about how you’d been “socking it to the development community.” BUT NOT LONG THEREAFTER YOU BEGAN AGGRESSIVELY SEEKING DEVELOPER MONEY. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8XDSKrNzs). At last count you’d received $759,841 from them. (See: http://vpap.org).
AND NOW, per the 11 December 2014 InsideNova report below, YOU NOT ONLY HAVE APPARENTLY LOST INTEREST IN RESTRAINING TAX RATES, BUT ARE BLAMING COUNTY BUDGET SHORTFALLS, PARTICULARLY SCHOOL SHORTFALLS, ON PW COUNTY TAXPAYERS’ RELUCTANCE (AND INABILITY IN MANY CASES) TO PAY HIGHER TAXES. In so doing, you have truly retreated to one of the last refuges of political scoundrels: If only the taxpayers were more generous and the government had more and more money, everything would be so much better — and we wouldn’t have overcrowded schools, etc. Apparently, taxpayers paying 30-40% of their income in federal, state, and local taxes and fees is not enough for you. I’m sure it’s very frustrating to you that taxpayers are hesitant to give you more money so you can: cover up your own policy mistakes of the last 5-6 years, keep giving indirect subsidies to residential developers, and in turn receive more and more campaign funding from developers to further your faltering statewide political ambitions.
It’s interesting that in recent years you have not publicly made mention, in fact have assiduously avoided any mention of the main reason for overcrowded public schools (and roads, for that matter): consistently tax-negative residential development, caused by you and your predecessors’ pro-residential developer policies that simultaneously overcrowd and underfund both schools and roads and neglect tax-positive commercial development. (For more info, see: Proffers and Tax Impacts and Media Reports On Balanced Growth .)
Note that early next year Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG) plans to release updated 2015 budget figures on tax-negative residential development. While a few numbers will change, we expect that the basic story will remain more or less unchanged: The breakeven value of new houses (where taxes received from the house equal the cost of government services incurred by the house) has been about $450,000, while the average new house sells for about $330,000. That leaves a tax gap of $120,000 multiplied by the current tax rate of 1.25%, meaning that on average each new house built has been $1,400-$1,500 tax negative per year. While tax rates change and it looks like the average house is selling for a bit more now (though that trend could reverse if the percentage of townhouses in new housing rises), the breakeven value has also risen. So we expect that the tax gap will remain similar, likely resulting in at least a $1,200 tax deficit per house per year.
Highly overvalued developer proffers of empty and often worthless land do not help much in reversing the tax-negative trend. (See Word attachment above.)
In other words, OVERALL, RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY IS OVERWHELMINGLY TAX-NEGATIVE, AND THAT REALITY DOES GREAT HARM TO TAXPAYERS, SCHOOLS, ROADS, QUALITY OF LIFE, AND THE VALUE OF EXISTING HOMES. Let me remind you that this is the very point that PWCBG has been making to you and the rest of the Board of County Supervisors for almost nine years now. Surely you could not have failed to hear us all those countless times during that period when we’ve spoken to you directly in person at BOCS meetings or, along with hundreds of citizens, sent e-mails to you reminding you over and over again of all this. Or perhaps, more to the point, YOUR DESPERATE PLEA BELOW FOR HIGHER TAXES CONCEDES PWCBG’S POINT, IN A BACKHANDED, PERVERSE WAY.
Compounding folly on top of folly, county officials such as you continue to advocate more and more of this tax-negative, taxpayer-subsidized housing — even though there are still ~30,000 approved-but-not-yet-built houses and no housing shortages in the county.
Nor have you or the School Board mentioned the $37-38 million dollars diverted to the school board’s Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center and other frills that were funded even before the basic needs of schools were met.
Your political “principles” change so quickly and so radically that you’re giving me political whiplash. Let’s hope that your next change is either in the right political direction once and for all or to the political exits.
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Saying Prince William County residents are more concerned about overcrowded classrooms than their annual real-estate taxes, Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart proposed a change in local tax policy Tuesday that would focus more on raising needed revenue for schools and county services and less on capping tax hikes.
Stewart, R-At Large, floated the idea during a joint meeting of the county Board of Supervisors and School Board held at the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center.
Pointing to the recent two-year county survey, as well as a separate survey his office conducted for political purposes, Stewart said increasing traffic congestion and school overcrowding are more immediate concerns for many residents than taxes.
“Regardless of your political stripes, people are more concerned about their quality of life at home than they are about keeping tax bills so low, I mean 30 percent lower than in Fairfax and Loudoun counties,” Stewart said. “There’s a price we are paying for that.”
The discussion, held in advance of upcoming annual spring budget talks, focused on tax policy as well as Stonehaven – a proposed residential development on the county’s west end that promises to bring a $24 million proffered site for the county’s 13th high school.
The controversial 1,650-home development, located near Jiffy Lube Live, has been put on hold until after the Dec. 23 special election that will pick a replacement for former Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington, who resigned in September.
Stonehaven has prompted widespread concern among western county residents that the development will only exacerbate traffic congestion and school overcrowding.
But in response to questions from Stewart about the need for the new high school, Superintendent Steven Walts said the school division needs a 13th high school — whether Stonehaven is ultimately approved or not.
Walts said nearby high schools – including Battlefield and Patriot — will be about 1,500 students over capacity by 2019, the planned opening date for the new high school, even without estimated 300 high school students projected from Stonehaven.
“To somehow imply that by not doing Stonehaven our number problems are going to go away is just not factually based,” Walts said. “We need that high school to relieve overcrowding as its primary reason.”
Regarding real-estate tax policy, Stewart explained that supervisors have begun their annual budget discussions in recent years by voting first on a “tax guidance policy” for the coming fiscal year.
That vote, usually in December, effectively caps the largest source of county revenue – real-estate tax receipts – by dictating a ceiling on the average bill.
The problem with the policy, Stewart said, is that if often results in schools getting less revenue than projected under the county’s five-year budget plan.
In the past few years, supervisors have agreed to “out year” tax-bill increases of about 4 percent but rarely stick to that goal in response to political pressure to push taxes as low as possible, Stewart said.
For Prince William County Schools, which last year received 57.23 percent of county tax money under the long-standing revenue-sharing agreement, those decisions have typically meant cuts in proposed school revenue in the millions. As a result, efforts to lower class sizes and raise teacher pay – two long-stated priorities of the school board – have been largely impossible because of constrained revenue growth.
“In my view, this is the problem,” Stewart said. “To focus on a tax-bill growth policy… is not serving the county or the schools at all.”
Still, when Stewart effectively asked school board members for their political support of the change – saying it wouldn’t likely happen unless they publicly requested it – several school board members balked, including left-leaning Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) and right-leaning Vice Chairman Gil Trenum (Brentsville), who led the meeting in School Board Chairman Milt Johns’ absence.
Jessie said the school board would need more specific numbers about how a change in tax policy would affect school revenues.
Trenum said more consistent revenue projections would be appreciated but stopped short of saying he’d support real-estate tax increases to get them.
“I say that because there might be other ways to do that,” Trenum said, noting in an interview after the meeting that supervisors could increase the schools’ portion of the revenue-sharing agreement to ensure actual revenue for schools is more consistent with projections.
“If we’re going to talk about being flexible, we should talk about being flexible with that,” Trenum said.
“Prince William Board of County Supervisors decided at its Dec. 3 meeting to initiate a full study of its road network instead of just removing the controversial bi-county parkway from its system. Wally Covington, (R-Brentsville), cast the only nay vote.
“The bi-county parkway, which would run from the end of VA 234 for ten miles to Loudoun County near Dulles International Airport, has met with significant opposition from some state representatives and affected property owners. The roadway was called the tri-county parkway until Fairfax County opted out. It also is known as Rt. 234 Bypass North.
“In October, Mike May (R-Occoquan), made a motion to initiate a comprehensive plan amendment (CPA) to take the bi-county parkway out of the county’s Thoroughfare Plan. County staff then researched the proposal, and on Dec. 3, recommended the comp plan amendment not be initiated.
“Ray Canizales of the transportation department explained analysis showed removing the by-pass would have major impacts on the transportation system across the county. He added the comp plan designates VA 234 North between I-66 and Loudoun Copunty as a four-lane roadway.
“Deleting the by-pass would increase traffic on Pageland lane by 950 percent by 2030, on Gum Springs Road by 64 percent, on Catharpin Raod by 19.1 percent and on Joplin Road by 9.4 percent, Canizales pointed out. US 15 would see a 69.1 percent hike in traffic, while traffic would go up 14.2 percent on Rt. 55, 5.5 percent on VA 28 and 9.7 percent on I-66 by 2030. He noted he was using the latest travel demand software, which came out in 2010. He said the numbers would change if a complete Thoroughfare Plan update were done.
” ‘No road is an island,’ observed Corey Stewart, (R-at large), board chairman.
“Before the vote, Maureen Caddigan, (R-Potomac), reminded the board she had asked for and supervisors approved initiating a CPA keeping VA 234 four lands and not increasing the roadway to six lanes. That CPA is on its way to a planning commission hearing and then to supervisors for a separate vote, the board agreed.
“Caddigan pointed out she ‘worked hard for the initiation,’ adding, ‘something is going on here I’m not comfortable with.’ She said she worried about increased truck traffic on VA 234, calling it ‘intolerable.’ She opined the bi-county parkway would do nothing for Prince William County.
“Canizales noted the figures he was using for traffic analysis had VA 234 as six lanes, since that is what is in the comprehensive plan today. Pete Candland, (R-Gaionesville), said he was ‘caught off guard’ by staff’s using six lanes, not four, in its report.
“Candland said that the problem with the bi-county parkway is that the ‘CTB and VDOT have married the bi-county parkway with the closing of Rt. 234 (through Manassas National Battlefield Park).’ CTB is the [Virginia] Commonwealth Transportation Board, and VDOT is Virginia Department of Transportation. He said the county should let the state bodies know it doesn’t support the plan.
“Later in the discussion Candland asserted ‘it is clear certain individuals don’t want an up or down vote’ on the bi-county parkway. ‘Enough is enough,’ he asserted.
“Marty Nohe, (R-Coles), suggested doing not just any transportation study, but the right one. Candland volunteered he thought the state ‘is trying to ram the road down our throats,’ and that some in the county think the bi-county parkway is a ‘bad idea.’
“Nohe reported ‘better connectivity is needed north of I-66.’ Candland said that closing VA 234 in the national park would shift traffic to I-66.
“Candland contended that doing the Thoroughfare Plan update would not result in much new information.
” ‘It’s just a way of not voting (up or down on the bi-county parkway) and kicking the can down the road,’ he added.”
“Score another one for opponents of the Bi-County Parkway.
“On July 16, the Board of County Supervisors unanimously approved a citizens’ resolution stating that Prince William County will not support the closure of U.S. 29 and Route 234 inside the Manassas National Battlefield Park without the completion of a bypass road around the battlefield.
“The Bi-County Parkway would link Manassas to Dulles. While exact plans are not solidified, officials have said they might close U.S. 29 and Route 234 inside the battlefield as part of the overall parkway plan.
“A related proposal would close U.S. 29 and Route 234 inside the battlefield and would intead create the Battlefield Bypass to reroute traffic around the park.
“With enough money and public support, officials could do both — close the roads and build both the bypass and the parkway. They could also do just one or the other — create the bypass or the parkway.
“Last week’s vote means that the county doesn’t want the roads closed for the parkway unless the bypass is also being built. That amounts to a victory for opponents of the Bi-County Parkway because forcing the construction of the Battlefield Bypass first would add considerably to the cost of the overall plan, making it less likely that the parkway would ever happen.
“But while that resolution is the latest in a string of victories for opponents of the Bi-County Parkway, it’s debatable whether the board’s declaration has teeth behind it or is merely symbolic.
” ‘It actually does have teeth to it because the assistant attorney general made a ruling that they could not take a secondary road without the Board of County Supervisors agreeing to it,’ said Mary Ann Ghadban, a Pageland Lane resident who helped draft the resolution.
“As proof, she pointed to a Dec. 18 email to several Virginia Department of Transportation staffers. Virginia’s senior assistant attorney general Ellen Porter stated that ‘it would be difficult to successfully argue that (the) public is being served by VDOT abandoning a road that is in demand by drivers.’
“While Porter’s statement is not an official ruling, it is an indication that the state would be unlikely to move against the county’s wishes.
“Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland (R) said on Thursday that the ‘teeth’ is whether VDOT or Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Ed Clark ‘want to consider the feelings of the Board of County Supervisors.’
“Candland said there is a ‘a lot of uncertainty’ about where Clark will stand on the transportation issues but as the battlefield superintendent, his opinion will carry weight.
“With VDOT Secretary Sean Connaughton, who is a former Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman himself, due to speak to the board on Aug. 6, it appears county residents and elected official alike may receive at least some hint about whether the July 16 resolution will have any sort of impact on the debate.
“Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R), who supports the Bi-County Parkway and is Connaughton’s successor, asked for a change in the wording of the reolution to make it clear [that] it would ‘reaffirm’ rather than ‘confirm’ county policy.
” ‘This is not a change to county policy,’ said Stewart at the board meeting.
“The board voted 8-0 in favor of that wording and two minor technical changes.
“The resolution means that even advocates of the Bi-County Parkway do not like the idea of either road being shut down until there is a completed new road around the battlefield in place.
“However, opponents of the parkway, such as Candland, say they’re against that road under any circumstance, so the resolution should not be seen as a tactical endorsement of the parkway even if the Battlefield Bypass is built first.
” ‘Let me be clear: I’m against this road, the Bi-County Parkway, regardless,’ said Candland. ‘It’s not a good use of taxpayer money.’
“He later added that the opposition to closing Route 234 inside the battlefield ‘could be one of those avenues to stop this from happening.’
“One alternative to the Bi-County Parkway is an eastern route, generally known as the Tri-County Parkway, that would run parallel to Route 28.
“The extension of Godwin Drive through Manassas and Yorkshire and out in to Fairfax County, eventually leading to Dulles in Loudoun County, is being pushed by state House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-50th), who represents Manassas.[Note: House Majority Whip Jackson Miller, a realtor by profession, is generally considered a residential developer ally and receives more campaign funding from developers than any other group — about 25% of all funding — per the official Virginia campaign finance website Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP): http://www.vpap.org/candidates/profile/home/60848 .]
“So far, opponents of the Bi-County Parkway seem to be considering it as potentially viable.
” ‘That would be a good solution in light of the fact that you have the right-of-way’ already provided, said Ghadban, who backs a rural road around the battlefield too.
“To Candland, the Tri-County Parkway ‘is definitely a better alternative’ than the Bi-County Parkway because the Bi-County Parkway ‘does not solve any sort of traffic issue for the citizens in Prince William County’ while the Tri-County Parkway would alleviate some north-south congestion.
“However, he said, ‘I don’t know enough about the Tri-County Parkway’ to deem whether it is a completely acceptable alternative.”
“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.”
“The plan to build a major north-south highway connecting Loudoun and Prince William counties, skirting the western edge of the Manassas Battlefield National Park, appears to be nearing fruition after 30 years of planning. In fact, it’s been on the boards for so long, the highway has changed names — it’s now the Tri-County Parkway — and it will only run through two counties.
“But under the guidance of Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, the former Prince William board chairman, new documents show the National Park Service is on board, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is on board, and the Loudoun and Prince William supervisors are on board. If all goes according to plan, a second highway will be built as a ‘Battlefield Bypass’ around the north side of the national park, and both Route 29 and Route 234 in Manassas will be permanently closed, 25 years from now.
“There is a coalition of preservation and smart growth groups who are completely not on board. They believe the Tri-County Parkway runs smack through hallowed Civil War ground, will spark rampant development and make traffic much worse.
“But they are going to have to fight fiercely, at this stage, to overcome the momentum that Connaughton and his group have built to construct a limited-access, 10-mile highway from I-66 in Prince William north to Route 50 in Loudoun County. Details are after the jump, as is an interactive map if you want to take a closer look at the proposed route.
“Connaughton and others portray the highway as a way to better preserve the Manassas battlefield, which is now sliced into quarters by Route 29 and Route 234. They also see it as a way to improve the route between Dulles Airport and I-95, and between the two counties as their populations continue to grow.
” ‘This is about creating one of the biggest and most valuable pieces of green space in all of Northern Virginia,’ Connaughton said, by building roads around it rather than directly through it. Traffic on those existing two-lane roads is fairly miserable at rush hour, he noted.
“The Tri-County Parkway ‘is simply about sparking development in the Rural Crescent’ of Prince William, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, one of five groups who issued an urgent plea to stop the highway last week, on the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Bull Run. ‘We think this is a really bad deal for the park service here, and for the park service nationwide,’ Schwartz said. He added that building a major north-south road would only increase the east-west traffic on Route 29 coming through the battlefield.
“Both Prince William Board Chair Corey Stewart and Loudoun Board Chair Scott York told me they are happy to have the Tri-County built, and Manassas battlefield Superintendent Ed Clark says it does not damage the historic site while laying the groundwork to eliminate traffic from it. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources filed its response to the plan recently without major objection.
“An agreement in principle to build the road could be signed by the four major players — VDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, the state historic resources department and the National Park Service — by the end of this year, Connaughton said. He said $5 million is already available for part of the design costs. ‘Funding for construction has not yet been identified,’ Connaughton said, ‘but it could be financed in the future traditionally or through public-private partnership,’ which could involve proffer trade-offs with developers or private builders who collect tolls.
“Schwartz said Connaughton has been adept at finding funding for other pet projects, such as the bypass around Charlottesville, and that he may divert funds from other roads such as I-66. He noted that Loudoun has already begun to plan for the road with its recent approval of Northstar Boulevard, and that Loudoun typically allows developers to build parts of roads in exchange for better zoning.
” ‘This highway is Connaughton’s top priority,’ Schwartz said. ‘I’m sure he has a plan.’
Above is a map of roughly where the Tri-County Parkway would go. Since the actual road does not exist, the purple line is approximate.“Once upon a time in the early 1980s, when it appeared Northern Virginia’s growth would quickly expand past Dulles to the western borders of Loudoun and Prince William, plans were drawn up for two major north-south roads. One, to skirt the eastern side of the Manassas battlefield, was called the Tri-County Parkway. It traversed from Route 50 near what is now South Riding, down through Fairfax County and Bull Run Regional Park, then diagonally across Prince William to the intersection of the 234 bypass and Route 28.
“A second north-south road was called the Bi-County Parkway. It is the current alignment: Starting at Route 50 in what is now the Stone Ridge neighborhood, and heading straight south into Prince William and tracking the western edge of the battlefield to I-66 at the 234 bypass exit. That alignment, though it only goes through two counties, is now called the Tri-County Parkway. Confusing enough for ya?”
“Connaughton said they would change the name to ‘the 234 extension’ at some point.
” ‘It’s a critical north-south link for a number of reasons, including connecting Dulles Airport with I-95,’ said Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group of business leaders which supports development and growth in the region.
” ‘It also connects a number of Northern Virginia activity centers,’ Chase said, ‘including those at Dulles and in Prince William and Loudoun, which are going to be where a lot of jobs in this region will be produced.’
“Schwartz’s Coalition for Smarter Growth, along with the Piedmont Environmental Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all disagree. They say traffic will continue to move east-west, not north-south, and that resources should be spent improving I-66 and Route 50, not building new roads to encourage new sprawl.
“These groups have suggested alternative, low-impact ways to improve traffic and reduce flow through the battlefield. Last month they filed detailed objections to the proposed agreement. But VDOT appears to be going a different way.
“In July, VDOT Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley sent a letter to the state Department of Historic Resources, asking for their input on a ‘draft programmatic agreement…regarding the Tri-County Parkway.’ Whirley’s letter notes that public hearings on the highway were held in May 2005, which seems like a while ago.
“In assessing the effects of a four-lane highway on the very boundary of the battlefield park, Whirley’s letter writes that the Tri County-Parkway will ‘convert a portion of relatively intact rural landscape’ into a highway, ‘introducing into this setting an increase in traffic-generated noise and visual elements that will alter and potentially obscure significant battlefield viewsheds. These direct and indirect effects will result in a diminishment of the integrity of setting, feeling and association of MNBP [the park] and MBHD [the adjacent land not formally in the park].’
“In addition, VDOT estimated how much land near the parkway would be developed in the coming years. By 2030, Whirley wrote, ‘30,660 acres [are] projected to be converted from undeveloped to developed land.’
“To obtain the National Park Service’s approval, VDOT devised ‘stipulations’ that it will use streetscape design, noise minimization and visual minimization techniques to reduce the impact on the battlefield. It would also use ‘traffic calming’ devices to discourage use of Route 29 across the park, and severely restrict the use of Route 234 through the park, with an eye toward closing both eventually.
“But VDOT acknowledges that until a bypass is built around the park, ‘construction of the Tri-County Parkway may result in an increase in through traffic on Route 29’ in the park. And ‘land development in areas served by the Tri-County Parkway may also be induced by the new highway.’
“Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, said, ‘Not since the threat of the Disney theme park in 1994 has Manassas National Battlefield been at such risk.’ He said the 200-foot-wide proposed alignment would run through ground where actual battles were fought.
“Ed Clark, the superintendent of the park, said the opponents are ‘not really historically accurate. That’s not where the fighting took place. The fighting took place to the east.’
“Clark said the two Civil War battles, particularly the second in 1862, took place over a wide area, and ‘It’s beyond our ability to preserve all that. We’ve preserved what really is that core battlefield where the fighting took place.’
“Clark and the park service are most interested in eliminating the heavy-duty traffic through the battlefield, and the Tri-County Parkway would form the western end of a battlefield bypass. He said if VDOT stands by its stipulations to reduce the visual and aural impact of the parkway, ‘and we do it in a way to manage sprawl, I think it can be done and be a real benefit to the park.’
“Schwartz said there haven’t been adequate studies or commitments made to construct this major road. ‘VDOT has forced the National Park Service into an untenable negotiating position,’ he said. ‘The public and decision makers lack all of the necessary information to make a sound decision.’
“Joy Oakes of the National Parks Conservation Association said that ‘diverting commuter traffic out of the national park is a top priority, however VDOT’s plan shows that the Tri-County Parkway would make traffic in the park even worse.’
“Local officials want this road.
“Corey Stewart [R], the Prince William board chair, said in an e-mail that ‘because of the importance of the road to future economic growth, Prince William County considers [the Tri-County Parkway] a top priority. Although some issues remain to be worked through before the project is finalized, there is increasing consensus and momentum favoring its construction, and I believe that it will be built.’
“Loudoun Chair Scott York [R] told me the same thing. ‘There’s a lot of growth, from an economic standpoint, that will happen around the airport and down in Prince William. We need the connection back and forth,’ and he said it will help both freight and commuters needing to get from the two counties to I-95.
“Peter Candland [R-Gainesville], the Prince William supervisor whose district the road would run through, said that ’employers are bypassing Prince William County due to our over-burdened infrastructure’ as well as overreliance on taxes on residents and lack of an efficient corridor to Dulles.
” ‘If done properly,’ Candland said, ‘the Tri-County Parkway will open the door for new corporate relocation and business start-ups…It truly is an economic development game changer for our county.’
“Connaughton says it’s the best way to get traffic out of the park, improve the congestion at rush hour and preserve the battlefield. He says the battlefield has lower visitor numbers than it should because the current parking and walking situations are poor, but the parkway and bypass will fix that.
“The preservation groups are stunned. They say VDOT’s stipulations to limit the impact of the proposed parkway are ‘inadequate to protect the Manassas National Battlefield Park, one of the Commonwealth’s most sacred Civil War landscapes,’ and that a 200-foot wide highway is ‘grossly excessive.’ Schwartz reiterated the belief that this is another key step in an Outer Beltway that would reach to Maryland, spreading more sprawl and traffic.
“The next key moment could come this fall, when all the relevant government agencies sign on to the program agreement. Battles over money and design will come next. But signing the agreement to build the Tri-County Parkway would be a historic step, one way or another, for fans of the Civil War, and Northern Virginia.”
For more information on the proposed Tri-County Parkway, see: Bi-County / Tri-County Parkway
“Railing against housing: Bob Simmons envisions offices, a preserved granary and 772 homes in Wheeler’s Grove next to an RV park. Prince William County doesn’t share his vision for that many homes.
“It would span more than 100 acres and bring in 1.5 million square feet of office space that Prince William County wants.
“But the plan also includes nearly 800 homes, and that part may get the ax from county officials.
“Developer Bob Simmons has a grand vision for Wheeler’s Grove, a proposed mixed-use community that abuts Interstate 66.
“The Wheeler’s Grove plan includes a lot of the commercial space that county officials have been encouraging in projects.
“However, Simmons also is proposing 772 homes on the site, near the juncture of Balls Ford and Bethlehem roads.
“County supervisors are not enthusiastic about all those homes.
” ‘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.’
“Stewart would like Simmons to cut the number of housing units in half, if possible.
“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.
“Simmons has not indicated whether the property’s multifamily units will be condominiums or apartments.
“The developer says he is within his rights to bring multifamily housing to the site.
“The property is designated a ‘regional employment center’ under the county’s comprehensive plan. That classification allows commercial use on 75 percent of the land and residential or retail projects on as much as 25 percent of the property.
“Simmons also is seeking approval for a 306-unit multifamily development called Ashton Park Center on Bethlehem Road near Wheeler’s Grove.
“The two proposals combined would come with more than $20 million in infrastructure improvements and school proffers.
” ‘These are major infrastructure contributions,’ said Dennis Cate, an attorney representing Simmons. ‘That doesn’t even count the value that will be generated from the office space we’re going to bring.’
“Simmons would not say how much the projects will cost but calls his investment ‘significant.’
“He wants the opportunity to provide a new gateway to Prince William from I-66, Simmons said. ‘This is the most aggressive office commitment that has been made in this area.’
“Simmons has been working on Wheeler’s Grove for about three years, he said.
“Besides the housing and office space, other aspects of the plan include two hotels with a total of 290 rooms and up to 218,000 square feet of retail space.
“Some retail would be on the ground floors of office and residential buildings, and some would be on stand-alone plots.
“The proposal was first reviewed by Prince William’s planning staff in 2006 and was rejected because it lacked planned infrastructure improvements, said Fran Burnsyznski, a county planner. Another concern was that no space had been set aside for a school.
“But those problems faded with proffers and infrastructure plans that Simmons added to the proposal. Talks are ongoing about a the possibility of school on the property, Simmons said.
“The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the Wheeler’s Grove and Ashton Park Center applications April 1.”
Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), Virginia’s authoritative source on the role of money in state politics:
” ‘Today is a product of positive thinking of the board overtime,’ Sharon Pandak, Democratic candidate for Prince William Board of County Supervisors told a meeting of Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce October 12 at Montclair Country Club.
“Pandak is challenging Corey Stewart, a Republican, in the November 6 general election. Stewart won a special election against Pandak earlier this year in a race to replace Sean Connaughton, who accepted a federal appointment.
“Pandak, a former attorney for the county, explained the county is the second largest in the commonwealth and the seventh wealthiest in the United States.
” ‘We need to preserve the environment, and get a better handle on growth. We need to deal with transportation. I’m committed to a world class educational system. I want the kids to stay here after high school,’ the candidate asserted.
“Stewart, who previously represented Occoquan District on the board, said the board has ‘cut costs, cut spending and focused more on transportation, public safety and education.’ He added he wants to keep a ‘business friendly’ county, and that 14 percent of the tax base is commercial development.
” ‘We need to get commercial development to 25 percent,’ he contended.
“Pandak noted the county needs ‘to be fiscally responsible, and engage in long-term thinking. When the county had lots of tax revenues, serious cuts were made in the tax rates. That made it more challenging. We shouldn’t need large swings in the tax rate. We many not be in a position to just nudge the tax rate this year.’
“The Democrat added the county needs to pursue more federal money for transportation and for homeland security.
“Stewart said that the previous administration saw a tax rate of $1.39 (per $100 of assessed valuation).
” ‘We reduced the rate. If the rate were not reduced, the tax bills would have skyrocketed. Prince William went to the lowest tax rate in the region, and that’s quite an accomplishment,’ he contended.
“The chairman added that there has been a 14 percent decline in assessments, and ‘that under Virginia code, the commercial property tax rate must be the same as residential. When residential rates go up, it’s the same for commercial. Commercial is now stable, or going up, but residential is down.’
“Stewart added he knows the tax rate will go up, and that ‘it’s important to cut costs and prioritize.’
“In discussing the business atmosphere in the county, Stewart said the perception is that the county is ‘not the most business friendly. We need to correct that.’
“The Republican contended the county’s ‘permit and inspection system is broken.’
“He said business get inspections and are ready to open, then an inspector finds ten items that need reinspection. On reinspection, more items are found, and some are different from the previous list, he explained.
” ‘After five to ten rounds of inspections, some people are out of business before they can open. This needs to be fixed,’ Stewart asserted.
“Pandak, who said she has a small business in the county, vowed to fix the business atmosphere. She said Innovation in western Prince William County ‘is the product of a board several terms ago. That was a progressive concept.’ She called this year’s moratorium on development a ‘sham that expires after election. We must send the message that we’re not closed for business.’
“Both candidates were asked what they’d do to help existing businesses grow.
“Stewart remarked education, public safety and transportation are the keys, and that Prince William is the only county in the state ‘with a significant transportation program.’ He added that the county is one of the one percent in the United States to have an AAA bond rating.
“Pandak volunteered the county needs adequate broadband capabilities ‘so we can reach around the world,’ and that the county’s economic development council should expand and be more diverse.
” ‘I want a dialogue with the chambers (of commerce) to get the county’s message out that we’re creative and innovative,’ Pandak added.
“In discussing illegal immigration, Pandak contended the federal government is responsible for a lot of the problems.
” ‘We must hold businesses which knowingly bring and hire (illegal immigrants) accountable with severe penalties,’ she pointed out. The Democrat added she would go to Congress and get the ‘congressional delegation and governor to listen.’
“Stewart asserted the county ‘cannot afford not to address’ the illegal immigration issue and its $2.5 million price tag to pay for public safety. He mentioned a man held on an assault charge at the county’s adult detention center.
” ‘His status was not checked, and he was released and strangled a county resident. He had been deported twice, and was an illegal alien,’ Stewart explained. He said, ‘this cannot happen today because the board voted unanimously’ on the July 10 resolution cracking down on illegal immigration.
“Asked how they would address the upcoming county budget shortfalls, Stewart said the focus should be on cost-saving measures.
” ‘We wanted to force staff to scrub the budget. There’s always ways to cut to reduce costs and keep tax bills down,’ he added. He said with a 14 percent reduction in real estate assessments, ‘We’ll need to look at more reductions in all agencies.’
“Pandak contended that ‘last year’s budget was shortsighted and led to worse challenges.’ She cited the overcrowding at Brentsville High School, noting the school that would have relieved that overcrowding has been delayed a year or two.
” ‘We need not to make short-term decisions that will cost more in tax dollars. Priorities must be weighed. We need to have budget meetings for the public, and to develop five-year plans with the schools.
“To a question on how to provide more workforce housing, Pandak noted, ‘There’s a problem with brain drain. We need to do more with live/work (properties).’
“Stewart pointed out the county can ‘try to provide more housing for teachers,’ and that the county can work with the private sector.
“In discussing the proffer system in which developers contribute funds to offset the impact of their developments, Stewart said he asked county staff ‘to give us the real cost of building the infrastructure for each house.’ He said the single-family proffer figure should be $51,000, according to staff.
” ‘If the builder doesn’t pay, you do,’ he told his audience. He added he believes a proffer should ‘stay in the area where the proffer is generated. For example, the Brentsville school portion should stay there.’
“His opponent contended, ‘Proffers are voluntary contributions made by developers as part of the process. Proffers can be part of a rezoning on whether the comprehensive (land use) plan is being met.’ She added the county started calculating proffer costs in the 90’s.
” ‘We need to be sure all affected parties are at the table’ in determining proffer amounts, Pandak said. ‘We won’t solve infrastructure problems with proffers. We need to look at impact fees.’ “