Citizens for Balanced Growth

Category: Brentswood (Page 2 of 2)

E-mail to PWC Republican Committee in response to growing Republican opposition to the Brentswood

—– Original Message —–

From:    Wally Covington

Sent:     Thursday, April 13, 2006 12:43 PM

Subject: Brentswood Debate

Contrary to popular belief, I have not yet made up my mind concerning the proposed Brentswood development, pending public testimony, the applicant’s presentation and rebuttal, board questions, and board discussion – otherwise known as a public hearing.  What I do embrace about Brentswood – and any other proposed rezoning in the Brentsville District — is the time honored republican principle that an individual can offer a new idea in the marketplace of free enterprise and the individual is guaranteed a fair, balanced, factual airing of that idea.  At the risk of offending some, I think a review of some Virginia land use issues is in order.


Various county and state agencies, in addition to county Planning staff, have all had the opportunity to comment on Brentswood.  Although the Planning Commission, a non-elected body has now held their own public hearing, the Planning Commission, like the Planning staff, is strictly an advisory body to the Board of County Supervisors.  The applicant/property owner is entitled to continue to revise the proposal based upon comments received along the way right up to and during “real time” before the Board of County Supervisors’ public hearing, prior to the vote.  Therefore for an elected official to compromise this process and take an irrevocably public stand at a Republican Party meeting, for or against a project is, in my opinion, irresponsible.


In Virginia – and 39 other states — the Dillon Rule (authored by a Republican) restricts elected officials from applying the suggestions made by many in the recent threads I’ve read about Brentswood.  Virginia does not have “home rule.”  Home rule is based on the concept of a “moral right” to local self government.  I repeat, we don’t have home rule.  To paraphrase the Dillon Rule, whatever powers local government has, that power is conferred upon the local government by the state and Dillon further emphasizes that if there is a doubt as to whether the local government has the power, then they don’t.


Traditionally Virginia courts have applied the Dillon Rule in a strict constructionist manner.  Fairfax County has already unsuccessfully tried to implement some of the suggestions in this thread, e.g. a moratorium on new building, or no rezoning without adequate public facilities in place.  In fact, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that public facilities should followrather than precede development.


Virginia property owners have a vested right to develop properties.  Local governments cannot restrict this right for a greater public good or require property owners to construct adequate public facilities, e.g. schools, roads, libraries, to support their developments.  These amenities are ONLY obtained through the voluntary proffer process, e.g. individual, private negotiation with the developer.  Proffers come only with rezoning cases, like Brentswood, in contrast to some of the “by right” development (when a property does not have to be rezoned, e.g. 1 house on 10 acres in the Rural Crescent) which is constructed with no public facilities.


Ironically, the Dillon Rule was initiated by those who, like many who have chimed in on the thread, had a distrust of local government.  In Virginia, an unsuccessful challenge to the Dillon Rule was last attempted in 1969, by the Commission on Constitutional Revision, chaired by former Governor Albertis S. Harrison, Jr. (Democrat.)


We can’t have it both ways.  The Prince William Comprehensive Plan (upon which many agencies, including Planning staff make their determinations) is not a regulatory document and adherence to the objectives therein is not mandatory by law.  The local zoning ordinance (which is regulatory) can be changed simply when an individual property owner requests a change by the process of a public hearing before the local Board of County Supervisors.  Thus, the Brentswood proposal was properly initiated through a request for a Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPA) and rezonings.


The “next step” in the process is to give the proposed development and proffer statement a public hearing before the Board of County Supervisors. The Board will consider Brentswood at our May 16th meeting at 7:30 PM, in the McCoart Building.  The public is invited to attend.


In the meantime, I intend to avoid any potential conflict of interest by reserving judgment on this rezoning until all the parties have had a chance to make their case at the public hearing. (Section 2.2-3112A2 of the VA Code Ann.) To otherwise influence the process by which this application of law is administered, e.g. an elected official taking a public stance on a rezoning prior to a public vote, compromises the elected official and in my opinion, negates the fundamental spirit of the Dillon Rule.


What is difficult about the Brentswood proposal is that in Virginia, transportation decisions, for the most part are not made on the local level, which makes coordination of land use and transportation difficult.  Ultimately, even the best laid plans and/or public-private transportation initiative can be thwarted politically, by the Governor appointed Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), as we have already seen in the Brentsville District when funds to widen Rt. 28 were “reallocated” (translation:  “disappeared”) in the late 1990’s, during the last VDOT overhaul.


In the case of Brentswood – real money proffered by the developer — as opposed to VDOT/USDOT allocations strung out over six year plans revised each year – does potentially give Prince William County more authority, more local control over land use in this case. The playing field rendered unequal by the Dillon Rule, suddenly becomes more competitive when real dollars are delivered to a local jurisdiction.


Local governments have been recently criticized for hiding behind the Dillon Rule while in the same breath, citizens criticize elected officials for failing to recognize the cumulative affect of the “piecemeal” approach to rezonings.  Viewed within the context of vested property rights, the vast scope of the Brentswood project and unprecedented associated proffers presents a unique opportunity to Prince William County to tackle this pitfall commonly attributed to induce sprawl.  At the very least, it’s worth an educated, in depth look.


I caution you to be open-minded and ensure that you are quoting fact prior to pointing fingers at your elected officials.  Our party will not be served well by institutionalizing and perpetuating misinformed legislative policy.


I appreciate the invitation to appear before the Republican Committee in a debate on this issue.  However, a better idea would be to invite the applicant to present, or debate Mr. Pugh. To better educate citizens about the legislative aspects of this issue,  I am happy to discuss the pros & cons Brentswood, but I do not want to be pitted as the “pro” speaker in a debate. Also I would hope that the discussion would be organized and publicized in such a way with no more than two Supervisors appearing in an official capacity which might lead citizens to think we are violating the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.


My office door is open.  My email address and office phone number are published so that any member of the public who wishes to lobby for or against a specific proposal has access.  I believe I have been available to you all in this respect.


I intend to approach the Brentswood vote in the same fair, unbiased way in which I have cast every other vote as Brentsville Supervisor, as an informed legislator, delegated authority by the party who nominated him to represent them and governing by the will of the people who voted for him to serve them.   I don’t think you’d expect anything less of me.

FYI – I will be “out of commission” for a few days as I celebrate the holiday with my family.  Happy Easter/Passover to all.

“Opposition to Brentswood Development”

by Charles Reichley, from “Two Conservatives” blog

(described as “two Prince William conservatives’ posting about Virginia politics and other topics of interest”)

8 April 2006

“At the April 1st Prince William Republican Convention, one resolution called on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to reject the “Brentswood Community” project. The resolution passed easily.

“A Washington Post article the next day, ‘Millions for Roads Aside, Planners Oppose I-66 Project,’ by Nikita Stewart, details the reason for opposition to the project:

” ‘The project by Brookfield Homes would create five times the maximum number of houses intended for the area under the county’s Comprehensive Plan — the master plan that guides Prince William’s zoning decisions on housing, schools, stores and office space, according to a staff report on the proposal.

” ‘Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) questioned whether Brookfield Homes would be able to move any faster than VDOT or would follow through on its promises.

” ‘According to the staff report, the Federal Highway Administration would not be likely to approve the entrance to I-66 proposed by Brookfield Homes because it would be too close to another Gainesville interchange. The staff report said traffic analyses performed by Brookfield Homes are unreliable

” ‘The company [Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Inc. of Herndon] concluded that the county has an adequate supply of housing planned for 30 to 55 years and that Brookfield Homes would add too many houses, according to the staff report.

” ‘The consultant also found that Brookfield Homes wants to build 875,000 square feet of retail but that residents would need only 175,000 square feet to be served well. Also, the county’s economic development plan calls for the addition of more high-tech office space and Brookfield Homes is not offering enough, according to the consultant.

” ‘The staff report, however, says that the 6,800 houses ‘could be easily sold’ but questioned their overall impact on the county.

” ‘ “Is this the right time to bring on a project of this magnitude with the gridlock in this area?”  Stirrup asked.’

“The number one proponent of at least further study is Supervisor Wally Convington, who represents the Brentsville district where the project is located. Again from the article:

” ‘The only reason we’re looking at this proposal now is that it offered the transportation improvements,’ said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). ‘The argument is, “Do you put your trust in VDOT?” ‘

“It appears from the article that Covington may not trust VDOT or the county staff on this issue. He questions whether the staff report is reliable and wonders why a study was ordered without board approval. He thinks they were overreliant on the comprehensive plan, and is skeptical of the relationship between the staff and Parsons, asking ‘Did they manipulate the study?’

“I can’t speak to why Covington questions the staff work. But while I voted against the resolution at the PWC convention, having looked into the matter further I believe this development should be rejected, at least in its present form.

“In fact, there appears to be a groundswell of oppposition. According to an April 4 article ‘6,800 Homes “Next Door?” ‘ by Tara Slate Donaldson, the more people learn about this project, the more they object. The biggest problem is that many supporters believe the developer offered to pay for road improvements, when in fact the developer is merely lending the money in hopes of getting paid back later:

” ‘In exchange for approval, Brookfield would provide massive proffers, including more than $100 million in transportation improvements.

” ‘It was these concessions that have had the community seriously considering whether Brentswood may be a good deal for the county. Brookfield’s big selling point — that the company will pay for the reconstruction of the Gainesville interchange and widening of part of I-66 — has been a special point of interest.

” ‘That’s where Brookfield comes in. The company has agreed to essentially reconstruct the interchange itself, a proposal that has drawn a great deal of interest from the community

” ‘But on Thursday night, residents were not happy to hear that Brookfield wouldn’t be paying for the entire reconstruction project, as many had previously believed.

” ‘As that piece of information sank in, much of the audience began laughing. “So they’re not paying for it,” called out several members of the audience. “The majority of that project is being paid by VDOT,” Utz responded. “By the taxpayers!” another man yelled. “Yes,” said Utz. From that point on, the audience, which had previously seemed somewhat curious about the plans, became openly hostile toward the idea.’ “

“Brentsville, Woodbridge Developments to Proceed”

by Nikita Stewart, The Washington Post

17 March 2005, p. T1

“The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow plans for two major developments on both ends of the county to go forward, despite county planners’ advice to reject them.

“The votes simply allow the county’s Office of Planning and Zoning to continue reviewing the proposals, which could alter Prince William’s long-range Comprehensive Plan. The board could still reject the projects.

“The projects include more than 6,000 houses in Brentsville, dubbed the Brentswood Community, and a high-end retail mall and luxury apartments in Woodbridge, proposed by the owners of outlet mecca Potomac Mills Mall. In addition, the board approved two other residential projects in Brentsville and a third in Coles.

“Voting 4 to 4, the board rejected a plan to build 365 houses in Brentsville despite the developer’s offer to realign Vint Hill Road, a project that the county might have to take on. Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries), Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles), Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan) and John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) rejected the project.

“The board never even considered a property owner’s request to build 10 houses on 15 acres in the Rural Crescent, although county planners urged supervisors to approve the application because the property is surrounded by dense development.

“Stirrup, who represents the area, refused to sponsor the measure, and no other supervisor took up the request. Stirrup said he had to protect the Rural Crescent, the 80,000-acre swath that is supposed to preserve open space through sparse development and no sewer lines.

“He said a friend calls the rural area the ‘rural croissant — it’s just being eaten away bit by bit.’

“The afternoon meeting, usually attended by just a few county employees, drew defenders of the Rural Crescent and residents who support development. They duked it out on the microphone with three-minute speeches to supervisors.

“Elena Schlossberg-Kunkel of Advocates for the Rural Crescent said that amendments to the Comprehensive Plan threaten the rural area’s boundary, and that the board has not had enough public discussion about the amendments.

” ‘There either is a Rural Crescent line or there isn’t,’ Schlossberg-Kunkel said.  ‘Let’s be upfront about it.’

“Dick Schneider, 69, who lives in Heritage Hunt in Brentsville, said he favored the proposed Brentswood Community because it offers ‘an unparalleled opportunity’ to resolve the area’s transportation woes.

“Voting 5 to 3 for the Brentswood Community project in Brentsville, the board was swayed by developer Brookfield Homes’ promise to provide more than $100 million in road improvements before it completes the 20-year project. Brookfield Homes has said it would extend carpool lanes on Interstate 66 by nearly two miles, widen the interchange at I-66 and Route 29, and build an overpass that would get rid of a railroad grade crossing on Route 29 that ties up traffic and is often the scene of crashes.

“Nohe, who voted for the project, said smart growth advocates are continually saying that roads, schools and other infrastructure should come before development. ‘This developer is calling our bluff,’ he said.

“Stirrup, who said publicly last week that the project should be considered, said it was a ‘difficult decision’ but voted against it Tuesday because of the impact 6,000 houses could have.

“County planners predicted that the number of vehicle trips on roads in the area would triple.

“Stirrup was joined by Caddigan and Stewart. Stewart has opposed every project except the proposed Potomac Center, which could bring upscale shopping and 433 apartments just across from Potomac Mills.

“Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) said she received numerous calls and e-mails of support for the Potomac Center project from residents who are tired of driving out of the county for ‘a decent outfit.’

“County planners had opposed the project because the Comprehensive Plan calls for the land to be used for office space.

“Barg said Mills Corp. of Arlington is in talks with Hecht’s to be one of the stores but could not reveal others that are part of negotiations.

“Caddigan said the board should define ‘high end.’  She noted that May Department Stores Co., which owns Hecht’s, is merging with Federated Department Stores Inc., the owner of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Caddigan said one of Potomac Center’s anchor stores might be Macy’s.

” ‘I don’t really consider that upscale,’ she said.

“Barg said discussions will continue with Mills.”

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