Better Together: Land Use & Transportation Planning

The connections between land use and transportation are getting a lot of attention in Virginia’s smart growth forums. Sounds like good news, but is it just more chatter or could it signal a step in the right direction?

In 2006 the General Assembly took action and unanimously approved VDOT’s Traffic Impact Analysis Regulations, which say that traffic impacts should be assessed before new residential densities are added to Comprehensive Plans or approved through zoning changes.

This new legislation took effect on July 1, 2007… just in time for Prince William’s update of the Comprehensive Plan. However, old habits die hard and the County’s process split the issues between two separate committees: the Land Use Advisory Committee (LUAC) and the Mobility Committee.

Except for one all-day joint seminar, the Land Use Advisory Committee and the Mobility Committee developed their chapters separately. As a result, the recommendations in the draft Land Use Chapter and the draft Transportation Chapter reference the same “smart growth” principles, but each takes a significantly different approach on where to encourage new development.

The Mobility Committee used the County’s Build-Out Analysis to identify the projected population increase through the year 2030. They recommended a plan that encourages new development to accommodate that growth at transit-oriented densities, which the committee defined as 20 residential units per acre. The committee also recommended six specific locations as the highest priorities for enhancing transit services. These locations reflect the areas proposed for revitalization, as well as areas where developer interest is high.

However, the Land Use Committee is recommending the addition of 19 “centers” that could accommodate dramatically higher population growth than is predicted by 2030. These “centers” focus on a few, isolated smart growth principles without considering the big picture: Prince William has already zoned and planned enough residential densities to serve the projected population for more than 20 years. Instead of proposing that the County relocate existing densities to areas where transportation improvements are planned, the committee’s draft simply adds more houses to the plan.

Adding to the confusion, we have a draft transit plan that was completed by a consultant working with the Planning Office. The transit consultant’s draft is based on the assumptions that (1) the balance between Prince William’s residential and commercial development will not change by 2030; (2) the County will steer new development to “centers,” and (3) cars will provide the primary access to “centers” and transit nodes. The consultant also proposes locations for transit services, including some VRE stations that were not recommended by Mobility Committee.

These draft plans present a clear choice to Prince William decision makers: incentivize new development in empty spaces next to transit and revitalize existing commercial centers v. initiate new development in new areas.

What’s your choice?

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