Compared to Virginia Beach…

…Prince William County is just faking it.

Both communities have identified a specific location for a government-sponsored “town center.”  Only one community is doing what it takes – and taking some financial risks – to make it really happen.

Drive on the Route 234 Bypass at Innovation, and you’ll see a sign advertising the University Town Center.  In the distance, you’ll see the new Hylton Performing Arts Center under construction, next to the Prince William Campus of George Mason University.

Prince William County is paying 60% of the costs for “Design + Construction Cost + Equipment and Furnishings.”   The county is investing over $20 million into the center.  

In addition, the county has pumped lots of money into buying the land and installing basic infrastructure (roads, stormwater, etc.) to stimulate growth at Innovation.  The county revised the Innovation Master Plan and the zoning in 2005, to establish that the Board of County Supervisors wanted to develop a “town center” rather than just a technology-focused industrial park.

But we got cold feet, even before the recent financial meltdown. 

The county placed “For Sale” signs on the property.  It hopes private sector developers will somehow finish building a town center, according to the county’s vague land use vision.   The county is active in marketing, but passive and reactive when it comes to actually shaping the growth of the proposed town center. 

Even worse, the county is competing against itself. 

The Planning Commission is on the verge of approving a new Land Use Chapter that encourages those same developers to construct “centers” (oops, term-du-jour is “mixed use designation areas”)  in any location now planned as Mass Transit Node (MTN), Regional Employment Center (REC), Regional Commercial Center (RCC), Urban Mixed Use (UMU), Village Mixed Use (VMU), or Community Employment Center (CEC). 

At the same time, the new Transportation Chapter supports road/rail infrastructure to nearly every corner of Prince William.  With all those options and promises of taxpayer support for transportation… developers have no incentive  to focus on University Town Center. 

Here are two measures of land use planning success:
– when the performing arts center opens in 2010,  how many people will walk to the site from their nearby apartment, condo, or hotel room? 
– how many people will enjoy a restaurant meal or shopping nearby, in the town center?

If everyone has to drive to a  performing arts building built with tax dollars on government-owned land surrrounded by more government-owned property… how does that match with all the blather about the county government being committed to mixed use, walkable communities in Prince William? 

(I’m waiting to see if Manassas officials take advantage of this opportunity.  If they offer shuttle service from the city’s “arts and entertainment district” in Old Town, Manassas restaurants may get most of the economic boost  from the new arts center in 2010… and maybe forever.) 

In contrast, Virginia Beach has just committed another $60 million to build two parking garages, a hotel conference center, and lease office space at its Town Center development.

Hmm… which community is likely to turn its plans into reality?


2 comments so far

  1. Evangeline Phillps on

    What’s your point?

    • Charlie Grymes on

      Point is that Virginia Beach has is “working the plan” that it developed, and creating the land use pattern described in the plan. The Town Center in Virginia Beach is far from complete, but it is a reality instead of a sketch on paper.

      In contrast, Prince William officials says they wants town centers… but then make land use/transportation decisions that scatter development. County officials have rezoned parcels for residential development to permit growth far from job centers, and even busted the Rural Area boundaries to spread housing beyond the equivalent of Virgina Beach’s “Green Line.”.

      Prince William officials blather about a future with “walkable communities” where people will “live-work-play.” However, instead of providing incentives for developers to create town centers, Prince William officials are borrowing money now to build new roads that will spread sprawl to the far corners of the county.

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