[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]
Several days ago, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG) received an e-mail from a prominent and vocal Rural Crescent (RC) landowner. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call this person Mr. Bildmore. Mr. Bildmore’s e-mail message to us is revealing and can perhaps serve as a case study of sorts on the thought processes of residential developers and landowners who support opening up the Rural Crescent (RC) and elsewhere to high-density residential development, as well as who they’re backing (and not just financially) in the 5 Nov Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) election.
Here are relevant excerpts from Mr. Bildmore’s email, with our comments following.
A four-fold increase in Rural Crescent (RC) residential housing density? 1. Mr. Bildmore’s email says: “In the past 20 years, the rural pastoral property around me has been ruined for agriculture with 10-acre residential properties. The increase in traffic makes our narrow roads almost impassable at certain times of the day. … More 10-acre by-right development will increase traffic, impact private water supplies, and increase demand on other public services without producing more revenue to pay for such things as libraries, first-responders, etc.”
PWCBG’s response: Mr. Bildmore says he has read in its entirety and “is in agreement with” the county Planning Staff’s new RC Study recommendations. He criticizes those who question the study’s recommendations, clearly implying that their opposition comes from not having read it.
Using county Planning Staff’s own figures from their 30 July 2019 public presentation on the RC Study, new 10-acre lots remaining to be built by-right (legally entitled) in the RC are currently 2,800 Houses on 28,000 acres. If you develop those same lots under Planning Staff’s proposed CR1 zoning designation for its new RC Plan allowing high-density “cluster” development with sewer, then you have a four-fold increase in housing density: 28,000 acres x 40% x 1 acre lots clustered (10X density with sewer on 40% of area, 60% not developed) = 11,200 houses. Traffic & school impact using standard county multipliers: 11,200 houses x 10 = 112,000 daily vehicle trips; 11,200 homes x .7/students per house = 7,840 new students. (Note: While some Planning Staff figures/estimates have been somewhat in flux in recent weeks, the four-fold ratio/increase of course remains constant.)
We’re a bit surprised that anyone would seriously argue, as Mr. Bildmore does, that a four-fold increase in the number of houses and housing density allowed in the RC or anywhere would make traffic and schools less, not far more overcrowded. Logically and in the real world, it does not work that way. The “increased traffic” of recent years in the RC about which Mr. Biltmore complains is actually from high-density housing — tens of thousands of houses added in recent decades bordering or near the RC in west county along, for example, the north side of Vint Hill Rd, along Linton Hall, Devlin, and Sudley Manor roads, near Bristow Station Battlefield, etc.
Regarding by-right 10-acre lots already built in the RC, they’re a done deal, a fait accompli over which none of us have any control, whether we like it or not. And whatever the good and bad points of 10-acre lots in the RC (by the way, we do not live there), they are typically not tax-negative, though many of the new proposed high-density houses/townhouses in the RC would be. (Last time we ran the numbers several years ago, the breakeven point on real estate tax-revenue per house, all things equal, was almost $450K. With only modest inflation since then, we figure the breakeven number now is probably a bit higher. But let’s use the low $450K number to be on the conservative side. Thus, every house worth about $450K or more would be real estate tax-positive for the county. See: https://pwcbg.org/2014/04/548/ .)
2. Mr. Bildmore’s email also says: “We must implement tools such as PDRs [PWCBG note: purchase of development rights by county from landowners], TDRs [PWCBG note: transfer of development rights; see last few paragraphs of https://pwcbg.org/2019/10/how-board-of-county-supervisors-land-use-decisions-affect-you-before-and-beyond-5-nov-elections/ ], and clustering to control residential development and allow retention of agricultural land in areas zoned for it. ‘Green Space’ covered with houses has little benefit for anyone. Ten-acre properties do not allow enough space for agricultural pursuits that support families. There is very little production agriculture left in Prince William County and continuing to develop the ‘Rural Crescent’ (RC) with 1 house per ten acres will continue to destroy what remains.”
PWCBG’s response: It would be pointless to enter into a debate about the future of large-scale agricultural production on the edge of suburban and urban land anywhere, including PW County (as opposed to smaller-scale agricultural production like micro-breweries or farm-to-table garden production.) That is something determined by broad market forces over which no one in PW county, as far as we know, has any control.
We both come from a long line of past and current farmers in the U.S.’ East, Midwest, and West. But our sympathies for big landowners like Mr. Bildmore begin to fall apart when we realize that his entire argument is constructed around bringing a four-fold increase in residential density to the RC (through “cluster” housing and sewer) so he can get his land rezoned from cheap agricultural to expensive residential land. Then he can sell it to plant not crops but high-density housing, making a killing for himself and his residential developer friends and sticking county taxpayers with the bill to build the required RC infrastructure (roads, schools, police, sewer/water, etc) in an area that currently has very little.
Residential developer tactics v. civic organizations, civic virtue 3. Now a word about what Mr. Bildmore’s email calls: “uninformed rabble-rousing opponents [of high-density residential development in the RC] who are causing unwarranted dissension … and relying on ‘mob mentality’ to stir residents into misguided actions.”
PWCBG’s response: Having become intimately acquainted with county residential developer/big landowner political tactics over the past 15 years, it’s a bit jarring to hear Mr. Bildmore describe opponents in terms that, in our experience, can only be applied seriously to some residential developers/allies and their tactics. In our direct experience, these tactics have included: intentionally lying and obfuscating the facts about development issues and proposals in order to confuse the public and discourage them from getting involved in county land use politics (a form of voter suppression); bribing BOCS members and candidates with $100s of thousands in campaign funds (as noted earlier, this is even more of a problem when the candidates refuse to publicly support and be held accountable to clear, specific limited-residential-growth positions); loudly heckling and interrupting speakers addressing BOCS hearings; trying to intimidate opponents with threats of legal action (entirely without justification); bribing citizens with free meals to show up in support of developers at BOCS hearings and fill the hearing rooms so there will be no seating available for opponents; etc.
The “rabble” to which Mr. Bildmore refers are citizens groups comprised of ordinary individual citizens, in our experience highly-educated and very well-informed people, among them academics and experts on land use issues. Republicans, Democrats, left-, center-, and right-leaning people, people from all walks of life make up this coalition, all of them civic-mindedly spending their own time and money, with no thought of financial remuneration, to create a better Prince William County through balanced growth/smart growth/controlled residential growth policies. They remain a deeply bi-partisan consensus coalition, a coalition much wiser than seven Democratic Party BOCS candidates who foolishly and/or cynically — possibly seeking short-term political gain, and clearly against the interests of the vast majority of county residents — apparently want rural preservation/green space and clear limits on residential development to become a partisan issue that only Republican BOCS candidates seriously and clearly support.
Here are hyperlinks to the citizen groups with which we’re most familiar (including us) and/or with whom we’ve partnered. Read about them, learn for yourself who they are and what they stand for, and perhaps join or work with one or more of them:
Friends of the Rural Crescent Energized (FORCE); search “FORCE – Friends of Rural Crescent Energized” on Facebook
Preserve the Rural Crescent (PRC); search “Preserve the Rural Crescent” on Facebook
Shallow Platitudes & Disingenuous Partisanship The attempt this year by the official county Democratic Party and seven of its eight BOCS candidates (Kenny Boddye excepted) to make rural preservation and serious limits on residential development a partisan issue is indeed one of the saddest, most disappointing, most retrograde things we’ve seen in 15 years of county land use politics.
And then to personally hear Democratic Party BOCS candidates at the 23 October candidate forum (sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the PW Committee of 100) once again speak about land use issues in virtually nothing but shallow, meaningless platitudes is deeply disappointing and worrisome to us. Their argument, as best we can ascertain it, boils down to this: “It’s our turn to take over the BOCS (and be corrupt) now. We promise you nothing, we will commit to nothing, we know very little about land use policy, but trust us. Everything’s the Republicans’ fault.”
Do you trust and prefer politicians who act this way?
As we’ve learned over 15 years and pointed out repeatedly in our previous messages this month, the reality is that the county’s land use antagonists — i.e., current and recent BOCS supervisors who have consistently promoted out-of-control residential growth in the last 15 years, are very much a bi-partisan group, and too-often a working BOCS majority: Republicans Corey Stewart, Marty Nohe, and, increasingly, Ruth Anderson (previously Sean Connaughton and Wally Covington), and Democrats John Jenkins and, previously, Hilda Barg. While the sometime-insurgents against this group (but unfortunately usually a minority), pressing for protection of the Rural Crescent and some limits on residential growth have been: Republicans Jeanine Lawson and Peter Candland (previously, Mike May and John Stirrup) and Democrat Frank Principi — sometimes joined by Republican Maureen Caddigan.
Extend the history of the BOCS further into the past, beyond the last 15 years, and you’ll find exactly the same thing, except perhaps with less-frequent insurgency against the even-stronger standing pro-development majority. And the historical pattern, unsurprisingly, seems to be repeating itself. Looks like John Jenkins’ replacement on the BOCS, Democrat Victor Angry — who voted on Oct 12 with Republicans Stewart, Nohe, Anderson, and Caddigan to keep the rigged, pro-residential-developer, pro-high-density-housing Rural Crescent Study alive — may be joining the current BOCS majority favoring out-of-control residential development. Undoubtedly, a taste of things to come when winners from among the other six lockstep BOCS Democratic candidates, all of whom refuse to support the Rural Crescent and limits on residential development, smoothly and effortlessly transition into a new yet-very-old-school BOCS majority supporting out-of-control residential development. (Democrat Margaret Franklin of Woodbridge, like Angry, is running unopposed.)
Bad land use policy by the Prince William County BOCS is and has been a profoundly bi-partisan effort for decades. One of the shining, if perhaps not perfect, exceptions to this vicious cycle had been, at least until mid-2019, the Rural Crescent.
Qualification & Conclusions Please note that nothing we have publicly written or said should be construed to mean that we oppose commercial development, the vast majority of which economically improves the county (jobs, taxes, stimulation of more economic activity.) That’s a big part of what we mean by “balanced growth.” We and others are constantly admonishing the county to improve the residential:commercial tax ratio from its current dismal ~85:15 to at least the county’s target of 65:35. We endeavor to scrupulously distinguish between commercial, which is normally positive, and high-density residential development, much of which is harmful. Nor do we have any objection, all things equal, to BOCS supervisors/candidates taking campaign funding from a diverse and broad base of commercial developers, as long as they make clear to the public that it is indeed commercial and there are no personal conflicts of interest. On the other hand, as we have also frequently said, residential developer campaign funding is an entirely different story.
Fellow PWC citizens: The BOCS’ responsibility and jurisdiction is limited to land use and related issues — i.e., real estate tax rates, and, to the limited extent to which it is discretionary, the county budget. Your informed involvement with the BOCS and land use decisions means that the interests of the vast majority of citizens are protected — the greatest possible good for the greatest number. Your apathy — or willingness to base your vote on things that have nothing to do with the BOCS’ land use role — means that our schools, roads, tax rates, environment, and property values suffer.
Please share this message and spread the word via Facebook, other social media, email, etc. Your thoughtful vote on 5 November is needed. Godspeed.
Here are online links to our previous messages this month and this one:
[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]
We come to Prince William County’s land use wars reluctantly. In many ways, this is not our battle. We have no political ambitions. Our three children long ago graduated from the now most overcrowded schools in the state. We are both retired, at least for now, and thus no longer struggle with the tortuous commutes in which way too many of you still suffer for hours every day, unable to spend that time with your loved ones. In other ways as well, including the location of our home, we are lucky to be out of reach from the effects of past and future bad land use decisions by the PW Board of County Supervisors (BOCS).
Envisioning a Better Future But this is still our battle, even after almost 15 years fighting it. And it should be your battle, too, if you wish to prevent an avalanche of residential development coming your way over the next four years, including the breaking open of the Rural Crescent to high-density residential. (More on that below.)
We love you and want you to experience the best this county could have to offer: 1) teachers with more competitive salaries, much better teacher-to-student ratios, and few, if any, trailers in our schools; 2) new residential development not approved unless roads are sufficient to handle the new traffic volume generated; 3) relatively low taxes allocated effectively by county officials to the people’s highest priorities — schools, roads, green space, and parks — with a much higher percentage (at least 35%, not the current lowly ~15%) coming from taxes on commercial real estate; 4) minimal tax-negative residential development, focused on truly affordable housing (not $350K luxury townhouses) for low-income public servants and workers; 5) beautiful neighborhoods with families flourishing economically, socially, and spiritually (good mental health and low crime); and 6) beautiful open green spaces. We want all of us to live in a well-run county that listens to the desires and aspirations of ordinary citizens, not a governmentally and economically corrupted and dysfunctional one. (See also “Our Vision of the Future” at: https://pwcbg.org/about-us/ )
We want land use and development proposals that come before the BOCS to be honestly scored and graded by county Planning Staff according to their effect on and harmony with the six principles listed above and the closely related five principles in “Our Vision of the Future” — or any similar list of county land use priorities and standards based on “the greatest good for the greatest number” and not just the financial interests of a tiny few. For major land use proposals, it might be best if these scores were reviewed by non-partisan, non-residential-developer-controlled, independent citizens groups. Any proposal that did not meet a minimum standard score would, by definition, be unworthy of approval. The county’s Comprehensive Plan could be updated accordingly. (County Planning Staff already has a scoring system for land development proposals, but it is neither complete nor entirely credible nor always respected by independent observers. It can easily be rigged under pressure from residential developers and their BOCS allies, just as the county’s Rural Crescent Study process has been thoroughly and repeatedly rigged, ignoring overwhelming citizen input — apparently until Planning Staff and the BOCS get the pro-residential development answers they want to hear. For more info, see first hyperlink below.)
What You Can Do Now; BOCS Candidates So what can you do? Please share this information with family, friends and neighbors via Facebook, other social media, email, etc. And vote 5 November. Do not let a tiny clique of residential developers and their big landowner and BOCs allies continue to hijack your county government, your future, harming you (schools, roads, property values, the environment, etc) and then making you pay for it through higher taxes.
Rural Crescent — Specific and public support for the Rural Crescent is the only across-the-board, objective measure we have for measuring a BOCS candidate’s willingness to support limits, any limits, on residential development, and willingness to support significant amounts of green space. It is also an excellent way to hold individual supervisors accountable later if they don’t keep their promises. Protecting the Rural Crescent also ensures that the county will not squander infrastructure dollars in areas with little or no existing infrastructure — i.e., the Rural Crescent — while ignoring development of areas like the I-95/Rte 1 corridor, which already have a great deal of existing infrastructure and whose residents may desire the right kind of development to improve less-developed and/or underserved areas. Protecting the Rural Crescent takes land out of residential development to give the county’s overcrowded schools and roads and the severely imbalanced residential:commercial real estate tax ratio time to catch up, time to improve from its current ~85:15 ratio to at least the county’s official 65:35 target ratio.
Remember that once green space is paved over, it’s gone. Is that what we want? In the words of 60s singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.”
Candidate, Party, Residential Developer Skullduggery — Kenny Boddye is the only one of the eight Democratic candidates for the BOCS on 5 November who has clearly, publicly, and in a detailed way expressed support for the Rural Crescent. Instead, using Brentsville BOCS Democrat Maggie Hansford as an example for her Rural Crescent-AWOL Democratic Party, voters are now being promised “increased funding” for schools to reduce overcrowding, “long-term economic development,” and preservation of the Rural Crescent — but with no commitment whatsoever to limits on residential growth, including tax-negative growth, in the Rural Crescent or anywhere, and no limits on rezoning of commercial land to residential. Maggie also makes pie-in-the-sky promises to “expand mass transit options,” although the BOCS has little or no leverage on this issue. On the other hand, five of the six Republican BOCS candidates have repeatedly, publicly, and clearly supported the Rural Crescent, as discussed previously.
Returning to our discussion of Occoquan District Democratic candidate Kenny Boddye, we have discovered that he was there fighting with us against Ray’s Regarde, a recent harmful residential development in Woodbridge District opposed by that district’s supervisor Frank Principi and a clear majority of district residents. Apparently in defiance of county Democratic leadership, Kenny was also the only Democratic candidate to attend the 8 October news conference on the BOCS’ and Planning Staff’s rigged Rural Crescent Study. The BOCS scheduled a vote on 15 Oct on Republican Supervisors Lawson and Candland and Democratic Supervisor Principi’s resolution to restrict and redirect the off-the-rails study, which has largely ignored clear 10:1 citizen input asking that the Rural Crescent be left as is and not broken open by high-density (“cluster”) residential development and sewer. Kenny again was the only Democratic BOCS candidate to speak out 15 Oct, addressing the BOCS forcefully, in favor of protecting the Rural Crescent and approving the resolution.
By contrast, Kenny’s opponent, Supervisor Ruth Anderson, the only Republican BOCS candidate to refuse to publicly and clearly support the Rural Crescent, helped defeat the resolution on 15 Oct, by a 5-3 vote, with the help of Democrat Victor Angry (Neabsco) and three Republicans who are leaving the BOCS at the end of the year. Ruth defended her actions by sanctimoniously wrapping herself in the flag of phony process piety, saying that her integrity was on the line if she didn’t allow the (corrupt and rigged) Rural Crescent Study process to continue as is. Clearly, based on this and other recent actions by Ruth, she is no friend of the Rural Crescent or serious limits on residential development. Nor does she even consistently respect BOCS and county process, as the recent Rural Crescent studies have repeatedly violated appropriate process at public meetings, blatantly ignored citizen input, and given favored residential developers, such as Mark Granville-Smith (MGS), privileged access to influence the study findings — all apparently without a word of serious protest from Ruth, who, with her husband, has received $1,300 in campaign contributions from MGS. (See: http://vpap.org)
For more info on the large public turnout 15 Oct in favor of the resolution, Ruth and other BOCS members’ comments, and Rural Crescent Study irregularities, etc., see the county website: https://pwcgov.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=23&clip_id=2632 beginning at ~ time marker 1:56 with Kenny Boddye’s speech to 4:03. (Citizen input, almost unanimously in support of the resolution, ends at about 3:31:45, followed by supervisor comments and the vote.)
We note with interest a very recent blog by our colleague, citizen land use watchdog “Derecho” in Haymarket, who has gained possession of an e-mail describing a well-organized Mark Granville-Smith (MGS) stealth public relations and lobbying campaign to open up the Rural Crescent to high-density development. Addressees and apparent participants in the campaign include many of the county’s leading supporters and enablers of out-of-control residential development, such as land use lawyer Peter Dolan of the extremely developer-friendly Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh law firm. See: https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2019/10/and-answer-is-unfortunately-yes.html?view=classic One of our recent encounters with Peter was the failed multi-year attempt, spearheaded by him and his firm, to build the massive residential development Stone Haven, off Devlin Rd in Brentsville District. We have had many encounters with MGS and, to put it as politely as we can, all of them have left us with the feeling that he has nothing on his mind but $ and will say or do anything to get more $ through his residential development schemes, regardless of how it affects other people and the county as a whole.
Here’s another very interesting and recent Derecho link regarding which BOCS candidates are being supported by the residential developers who want to break open the Rural Crescent to high-density residential development: http://thederecho.blogspot.com/2019/10/weve-seen-this-movie-before.html?m=1Looks like these residential developers and big landowners agree with us that their best bets to pursue out-of-control residential development in the Rural Crescent and elsewhere are BOCS Chairman candidate Democrat Ann Wheeler, a leading advocate of the Rural Crescent-busting Bi-County Parkway, and Brentsville District Supervisor candidate Democrat Maggie Hansford. Considering this, isn’t it more than a little disingenuous for Maggie to continue to vaguely claim, in her direct mail political ads, with no specifics or commitments whatsoever, to be a defender of the Rural Crescent and “standing up to developers”?
In fairness to all candidates, we acknowledge, as we have previously done, that no candidate is perfect. Such is the nature of our democracy based on compromise among many competing groups and interests. On specific issues, we have previously publicly criticized and exposed mistakes by some of the Republican candidates who are currently running for the BOCS. We reserve the right to staunchly oppose any elected Republicans and Democrats who clearly go to the dark side, as BOCS Chairman Corey Stewart did after initially, as Occoquan Supervisor, being an effective advocate of limits on residential development. (Republicans Stewart and Coles Supervisor Marty Nohe have known us for at least 10 years as some of their most relentless, outspoken critics. Equally so, former Brenstville Supervisor Republican Wally Covington, who is still the most corrupt politician we have ever known personally. We also frequently criticized — but to a lesser extent because they were on the other end of the county — Hilda Barg and John Jenkins, who were rubber-stamp, pro-residential development Democratic BOCS supervisors.)
All that said, we are much more comfortable with candidates and BOCS members who agree to limits on residential growth, and have frequently (though not always) worked with us to stop bad proposals, rather than those candidates (i.e., all the current Democratic BOCS candidates except Kenny Boddye) who have been absent and/or virtually silent on the land use battles of recent years, who refuse to publicly and specifically agree to any serious limits on residential development now, including in the Rural Crescent, who appear to have little or no understanding of land use issues, and/or who are already, even before elected, receiving large amounts of money or other support from residential developers and sources outside the county. Even before gaining office with all its temptations, they’ve already started very badly.
Now here’s a bit of a paradox, but a reality nevertheless, at least in our county. Campaign funding is a very important indicator of possible intent, and we detest how much residential developer money there is in PW politics and what a corrupting force it can be and usually is on specific issues and, over time, to politicians personally. But campaign funding is still a secondary test compared to a candidate making specific, known public commitments to seriously limit residential growth and preserve the Rural Crescent, and thus be accountable to carry them out. By refusing to be held accountable on land use, seven of the eight Democratic candidates and one of the six Republicans fail completely to be worthy of the trust of county voters.
Future Concerns Beware of TDRs (transfers of development rights), a pro-residential development tool being considered for the first time that we know of by the county as part of the Rural Crescent study and for broader use. Every BOCS member and candidate seems to like TDRs — at least we have yet to find any who have expressed opposition to them. But we’re not so sanguine.
TDR Definition — A TDR shifts residential development from one land parcel to another, transferring building rights from a “sending” to “receiving” area. All of the Rural Crescent could be designated as a “sending” area, or places of special sensitivity/priority could be identified. Defining “receiving” areas is typically very challenging because someone’s neighborhood will be impacted by higher-than-planned density when development rights are transferred.
Who Decides & How? — Does anyone actually believe that all TDRs will direct residential development to the Rte 1/I-95 corridor or a small number of similar places, where it may be more welcome and positive and can serve an urban renewal purpose, and not elsewhere as well where it’s not welcome and serves no positive purpose? What’s to prevent the county from transferring development rights from the Rural Crescent (or virtually anywhere else in the county) to Devlin Rd., Rollins Ford Rd., Sudley Manor Dr., 234 Bypass, PW Parkway, many places in mid-county that none of us would like, etc., etc? Think of ever-scheming residential developers who care not a whit about the public interest or the greater good. Who will get to decide where TDRs can be transferred, and what, if any, credible public input/appeals process there will be, in what venue, for how long, etc? The likely result in our politically corrupt county: the same brew of even more tax-negative, high-density residential; increasingly overcrowded roads and schools, which will become further trailerized, particularly in west county; higher taxes; more environmental damage; and lower property values.
A 3-Fer for the BOCS — But then also add this result for TDRs: a process that will probably be decided in a non-transparent way, without serious input by ordinary (non-elite) citizens, and that is virtually impossible to stop. In other words, we won’t even be able to protest, publicly pressure, or counter-lobby the BOCS because the county must legally allow TDRs, once approved, as by-right (legally-required) development. The BOCS could thus more or less: 1) insulate itself against having to obviously vote against the public interest, 2) insulate itself against meaningful transparency and accountability, and 3) simultaneously take the sword of protest and public pressure out of the public’s hands. Perhaps behind this apparent current infatuation with TDRs is a beautiful three-fer for the BOCS. Hope not, because of what that says about the BOCS and because it would also undermine, at least in spirit, free speech and citizens’ right to petition the government.
Only Ordinary Citizens Can Change Things So county land use is everyone’s battle. Without your informed vote, your informed involvement in BOCs land use and budget debates, your willingness to protest harmful proposals that come before the BOCS, nothing good can ever happen or be sustained. Otherwise, there are too many centrifugal political forces, too much residential developer money and temptation, too much political corruption and residential developer disinformation pulling against “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Thus, our mantra at Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG): “Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured, while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.”
Your informed involvement regarding what the BOCS does — land use-related issues — means that the interests of the vast majority of citizens are protected. Your apathy means that our schools, roads, tax rates, environment, and property values suffer.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]
As previously noted, working with many other civic groups and some Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) members, we’ve spent over 14 years, now almost 15 trying one-by-one to cut off the hydra heads of out-of-control residential development. (As you may recall, the hydra was a dangerous and destructive monster in Greek mythology. It sprouted two new heads for every one that was cut off by those trying to protect themselves and their communities from it.)
Fellow Prince William County citizens:
A prominent Prince William County Democrat who contacted us just this month described how the monster of out-of-control residential development has historically affected his/her party. Here are excerpts of what he/she said:
“Thank you for compiling and disseminating this very useful research information. … I want you to know that I feel your pain on a very personal level.” “It was always a very lonely and frustrating thing [to be a balanced growth/] smart growth Democrat in … PW county… The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of forward-looking, fact-based policy dedicated to serving the interests of the general public. The Prince William Democratic establishment ignored that memo then and they are evidently still ignoring it today. As hard as we tried to enlighten them to the actual realities and consequences of sprawl, you might think I would be surprised that they still don’t get it. But in my heart I’m really not. They were always too beholden to their deep-pocketed developer friends to be willing to change. And the pro-developer [Democratic Party] incumbents always had the power to call the shots and make most of the establishment (i.e. County Democratic Committee) fall in line with their will.
“Once a person has bought into the old school developer thinking of ‘all growth is good growth,’ it is very easy to convince them that smart growth principles are just a bunch of rural elitist self-serving nonsense. They have already closed their minds to objective truths…”
He/she, after discussing some important past victories against out-of-control residential growth, then concluded, and this is particularly important:
“Unfortunately, progress made during one election cycle can be quickly lost in the next. The main problem is that the developers and their profit motive never go away, and there’s a damn good reason for that: they own or are otherwise vested in massive real estate holdings in areas they have targeted for future growth. So they just bide their time and then come at us again in the next election with their hand-picked stealth candidates, well coached on how to dodge the issues or misrepresent themselves just long enough to fool enough voters to get elected. It’s a fight that never ends, and it doesn’t help that Virginia is a place where the laws on the books prioritize ‘personal’ property rights over almost any other consideration. Never mind that those laws were written in a time when sprawl wasn’t an issue and their original purpose was to protect the rights of individual citizen landowners, not corporate entities and land use changes on a modern scale that can and do negatively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the whole region.
“We need people like you to stay vigilant, and I deeply appreciate your efforts.”
First of all, it’s always nice to know that we’re not alone, after the volumes of hate mail and threats we and some of our friends have received from residential developers and their toadies over the years, particularly during and after hard-fought residential development battles. The amusing thing about those battles, which we’ve almost always won, is that we’ve spent around $1,000 of our own money in almost 15 years, while our opponents have spent millions upon millions.
[By the way, here’s what we, Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth (PWCBG), have always stood for:
Second, the county has not come this far — finally ridding itself of rubber-stamp, pro-residential-developer Republicans like Corey Stewart, Marty Nohe, Wally Covington, and Democrats Hilda Barg and John Jenkins — only to have them now replaced by a platoon of Democrats, marching in lockstep behind Commandant (and BOCS at-large chairman candidate) Ann Wheeler to a thinly-disguised, yet more pro-residential-developer tune than ever.
The voters of Prince William County have a unique opportunity on November 5 to vote for BOCS candidates who have promised to protect the Rural Crescent — Republicans Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville District), Peter Candland (Gainesville District), Yesli Vega (Coles District), Douglas Taggart (Potomac District), and John Gray (at-large chairman) — or for those who have not, i.e., the BOCS Democratic candidates. This is the best way to stop the problem at its source. Obviously, none of these candidates is perfect, perhaps especially John Gray, who recently apologized to the county for offensive and intemperate remarks made on his Twitter account. But as another BOCS At-Large Chairman Candidate, Independent Muneer Baig, a well-spoken man, reminded us 8 October as we were discussing with him what happened seemingly very recently to the seemingly mild-mannered John Gray: “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” In other words, in our words, not necessarily Muneer’s, let political candidates be unforgiving if they have never supported a candidate who has said or done similar or worse things — including supporting leading Virginia elected officials who publicly support infanticide, wore blackface, and/or have allegedly committed multiple sexual assaults. (We’ll see about how forgiving the voters will be in all of these cases.) Otherwise, political candidates are just playing “gotcha” and being opportunistic and hypocritical. Remember that land use policy, tax rates, and budget are the only major things over which the BOCS has power and jurisdiction.
More importantly, we believe that unequivocal and public willingness by BOCS candidates to protect the Rural Crescent — with no loopholes allowed for extremely opportunistic residential developers (i.e., the hydra) — is an excellent test of whether a BOCS candidate is willing to accept any serious limits on residential development. A candidate who is unwilling to publicly, clearly, and specifically say so is already, by definition, part of the problem, not the solution. Once in office, subjected to the never-ending lobbying and offers of big money and other temptations from residential developers, with no self-imposed ethical and policy restraints and without an extremely firm will, such a person will only become more and more corrupted over time. At least that’s what we’ve seen happen over and over and over again over the last 15 years of being very involved in county land use issues. No exceptions.
Another thing that is very interesting about Independent Chairman candidate Muneer Baig, besides some important and unique insights about county land use that we gained from talking to him, is that, as of 31 August, he has received/accepted virtually no developer funding. See his website for more info. Likewise, Democrat Kenny Boddye (Occoquan District), who says that he does not accept funding from residential developers. We also realized when we met Kenny and were talking to him on 8 October that he was with us fighting yet another very unreasonable residential development plan a few months ago: Ray’s Regarde. While Kenny has not signed up to protect the Rural Crescent, neither has his opponent, Republican incumbent Ruth Anderson, who has received almost 40% of her campaign funding from developers.
Kenny was also apparently the only Democratic BOCS candidate who had the courage to openly attend the 8 October 2019 news conference supporting preservation of the Rural Crescent, apparently despite disapproval from county Democratic Commandant Ann Wheeler. And this does require courage, as one of our pro-Rural Crescent friends noticed after he/she recently questioned BOCS Democratic candidates directly on their Facebook sites about their positions on the Rural Crescent. Here’s how he/she described what followed: “I received a nastygram a few days ago, after having the audacity to post questions on a few [Democratic] candidates’ Facebook pages expecting a response to their position on [County Planning] Staff Recommendations [on the Rural Crescent.] Who knew actually expecting candidates to articulate their position would be seen as adversarial.” So much for freedom of speech and/or the public’s democratic right to know candidates’ positions; seems that this is an ongoing theme with some of the Democratic BOCS candidates this year, as noted previously.
The 8 Oct news conference mentioned in the paragraph above was hosted by current BOCS Supervisors Republicans Jeanine Lawson and Peter Candland and Democrat Frank Principi. Following the news conference, the three supervisors introduced to the BOCS a resolution to preserve the Rural Crescent. (See “Resolution to Suspend Rural Preservation Study Process” below.) The BOCS will vote on it next Tuesday, 15 October, at 7:30 pm at the McCoart building located at 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, VA, 22192. Please attend and sign up at least 15 minutes before the meeting to speak in favor of the resolution. Or at least send an email to the BOCS expressing your support: BOCS@pwcgov.org … or individual BOCS supervisors (see cc addressees above.) Or even better, do both, if you can.
Special thanks to those of you who are spreading the word via
Facebook and other social media, e-mail, word-of-mouth, etc.
Please continue to do so.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured, while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.
Resolution to Suspend Rural Preservation Study Process
Joint Resolution: Supervisor Peter Candland, Supervisor Jeanine Lawson and Supervisor Frank Principi
WHEREAS, the Rural Area in Prince William County covers approximately 117,000 acres, including MCB Quantico and two national parks;
WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors created the Rural Area, an Urban Growth Boundary, in 1998 with the adoption of a Comprehensive Plan that established a Rural Area and a Development Area;
WHEREAS, the Rural Area is intended to provide a tool to promote and protect agriculture, woodland, open space, and other rural land, and better control sprawl development;
WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors initiated a Rural Preservation Study in 2012 to review, evaluate, and make recommendations for policy revisions to better meet the County’s objectives;
WHEREAS, public input gathered throughout the study process revealed a strong consensus supporting the importance of maintaining an Urban Growth Boundary, Rural Area, in Prince William County;
WHEREAS, the Board of County Supervisors initiated further study of the options presented in the Rural Preservation Study on September of 2016;
WHEREAS, County Planning staff published draft policy revisions to the Comprehensive Plan regarding the rural area on September 17, 2019;
WHEREAS, the recent report of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) calls for planned housing growth to be located near transit;
WHEREAS, all chapters and recommendations prepared by the Prince William Planning Department for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan must be consistent with implementation of the housing targets adopted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments on September 11, 2019.
WHEREAS, existing rural area policies have proven to be a successful policy protecting the rural area from suburban sprawl and thereby channeling taxpayer funding for services into the development area;
WHEREAS, the rural area has significant assets including over 40 miles of Virginia Scenic Byways recognizing the value of scenic countryside views;
WHEREAS, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors renews its commitment to smart growth policies and recognizes the need for a comprehensive review of County land use policies;
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Prince William County Board of Supervisors directs all County staff to suspend any and all efforts on the Rural Clustering and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs, including any possible policy changes to the Rural Area/Urban Growth Boundary; removes from the Planning Commission’s work schedule the current Rural Area review work on the Rural Clustering and Transfer of Development Rights programs; and that County staff continues only the review of the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program with a focus on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ adopted goals and recommendations.
[Mass e-mail by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]
Fellow Prince William County Citizens:
In our nearly 15 years of involvement in county land use issues and almost 20 years living here, pursuing balanced growth land use policies and protecting Prince William County’s Rural Crescent have always been bipartisan issues, including protecting citizens against tax-negative residential development that chokes our roads, overcrowds our schools, raises our taxes, lowers property values, and damages our environment. Thank goodness for that.
Specifically, regarding the Rural Crescent, thank county officials like Sharon Pandak, a Democrat and county lawyer who helped create the Rural Crescent in 1998, former politicians like Republican Supervisors John Stirrup and Mike May, current politicians like Democratic Supervisor Frank Principi and Republican Supervisors Jeanine Lawson, Peter Candland, and Maureen Caddigan, all of whom have frequently and consistently spoken out and voted in favor of the Rural Crescent. They have done so against the wishes of unprincipled residential developers, big landowners, and allies on the Board of County Supervisors (Republican Supervisors Corey Stewart, Marty Nohe, and former Democratic Supervisor John Jenkins) who have had no qualms about sticking you with the most overcrowded roads and schools in Virginia and then raising your taxes to pay for the very things that are tormenting you. Also thank the citizens groups, composed of both Republicans and Democrats, who, on their own time and pro bono, have applied pressure and kept attention focused on balanced growth land use and preserving the Rural Crescent.
But now, sadly and to our great disappointment, the bipartisanship has apparently ended.
As if they’ve received marching orders from a higher authority, none of the eight Democrats running for the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) in the 5 November elections has agreed to sign the Preserve the Rural Crescent/Friends of the Rural Crescent (PRC/FORCE) pledge to protect the Rural Crescent or in any way unequivocally and publicly promised to support it. On the other hand, five of the six Republican candidates running for the BOCS — John Gray (at-large, chairman), Yesli Vega (Coles District), Douglas Taggart (Potomac District), and incumbents Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville District) and Peter Candland (Gainesville District) — have publicly and clearly expressed support for preserving the Rural Crescent.
Democratic candidate for at-large chairman of the BOCS, Ann Wheeler, unapologetically supports the far-western north-south Bi-County Parkway (BCP), which: runs right through the Rural Crescent to Dulles Airport and thus will be the end of any honest semblance of a rural preservation area, solves no known commuter or other traffic problem, and is a big juicy kiss to residential developers who wish to open up the Rural Crescent to high-density residential development. Ann has raised $185K, three times that of her Republican opponent John Gray. Over $103K (56%) of her money raised is from major Democratic donors, her family, organized labor, and developers. (See http://vpap.org for more info. All campaign finance figures above and below are as of 31 Aug 2019.)
Democratic BOCS Supervisor Frank Principi (Woodbridge District), who supports the Rural Crescent and limits on residential growth, was ousted by his own party. It seems that the Democratic Party may have caught him off guard by running a quiet but well-organized primary campaign against him that succeeded by only 97 votes. His replacement as the Democratic candidate, Margaret Franklin, will apparently run unopposed in the general election. Margaret has raised $61K; just under $27K (44%) is from major Democratic donors, organized labor, and developers.
The Democratic candidate for Coles District Supervisor, Raheel Sheikh, when asked if he supported the Rural Crescent, not only refused to offer support, but also told PRC/FORCE: “I represent everyone and feel no need to take sides on anything.” In other words: I refuse to tell you what I stand for so you can make an informed decision about me, but you should just vote for me anyway. My policies and views are not your concern as a voter. … It appears that Raheel is uninterested in the democratic process of being transparent and accountable to voters. Interestingly, of Raheel’s campaign donations we were able to map, about 55% are from outside the county or state. Perhaps that’s why he seems to see himself as unaccountable to local voters.
The Democratic candidate for Gainesville District is Danny Funderburk, who works for one of the largest developers (construction site development) in northern Virginia, William A. Hazel, Inc. It’s an understatement to say that electing a developer to the BOCS, which controls land use in the county, is like putting a fox in charge of guarding the hen house. Danny has raised almost $14K, of which over $7.5K (54%) is from developers.
In addition to Ann Wheeler, Margaret Franklin, Raheel Sheikh, and Danny Funderburk noted above, the remaining four Democrats and one Republican candidate for the BOCS who have been unwilling to publicly support the Rural Crescent or significant limits on residential growth are: Democrat Ken Boddye and the Republican incumbent Ruth Anderson (Occoquan), Democrat Victor Angry (Neabsco), who like Margaret Franklin in Woodbridge is apparently running unopposed, Democrat Maggie Hansford (Brentsville), and Democrat Andrea Bailey (Potomac). Andrea Bailey has raised $120K, five times the amount of her Republican opponent Dennis Taggart; over $63K (53%) is from Democratic donors, organized labor, and developers. Victor Angry has raised almost $27K; $24K from developers and Democratic donors. Republican Ruth Anderson has raised $103K, of which $73K (71%) is from developers, Republican donors, and organized labor. (Nothing special to report that we noticed about Ken Boddye or Maggie Hansford’s fundraising.)
It may also be of interest that although we live in Brentsville District and have been active in land use issues there and elsewhere in the county for 14 years, we had never heard of Maggie Hansford before this election campaign several months ago. The opposite was true of her opponent Jeanine Lawson before she was elected Brentsville supervisor; Jeanine was in the trenches fighting on the right side of many land use battles for years before she was elected supervisor. In other words, when it comes to land use and related issues — the BOCS’ main responsibility and area of influence — Maggie Hansford has been invisible.
If you think Prince William County is poorly governed, overtaxed, and underserved now — and to some extent we agree — wait until a Democratic majority takes control of the BOCS after 5 November, a Democratic majority that has no commitment whatsoever to the Rural Crescent, balanced growth land use policy, and limiting residential development, especially tax-negative residential development. Then the most overcrowded school district in the state will become even more overcrowded at all levels, traffic-choked commuter roads will become even more congested, to the point of gridlock, and at the same time that the government services for which you pay taxes are declining rapidly, your property taxes will increase rapidly. This will be the new Prince William County that the official Democratic Party apparently supports: More beholden than ever to big northern Virginia residential developers, who love to flush the high-density, high-volume, tax-negative residential development that no other northern Virginia localities want into Prince William County, our county, degrading the quality of life for everyone except developers, big landowners, and their political allies.
Ralph & Kathy Stephenson Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth
Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured, while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.