Yes, our developers are smarter than a 5th grader…

Tell a 5th grader that we are hiding candy in one closed fist, the other hand is empty, and the child can have the candy if they can guess the correct hand.  If we hide the candy every time in the right-hand fist… how long before the kid catches on and chooses the right hand each time?

We can do the same with Prince William county’s developers, using increased zoning density for housing as the “candy.”

Developers in Prince William are a very smart crowd, way past the level of 5th graders.  They can be “incentivized” to make the right choice on where to build new houses, if county officials can decide where to place that candy.

Developers will build over 50,000 new housing units to accommodate 140,000 new residents in Prince William by 2030, based on the county’s demographic projections.  One option: we can do nothing.  Current planning provides for enough new housing  units to accommodate twenty years of projected population growth.  We don’t need to increase zoning density anywhere before 2030.

However, “more of the same” development will not create the future envisioned by the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS).

When the BOCS adopts various documents (including Strategic Plans, Comprehensive Plans, Zoning Ordinances, and Capital Improvement Plans), our eight elected supervisors shape the future. If we want something better than more-of-the-same, we need to:
1) define what we want
2) alter the zoning map to direct development to preferred places (such as revitalizing the Route 1 corridor)

That’s how the BOCS tells developers where increased density for housing will be allowed, and where increased infrastructure (roads, fire stations…) will be provided for those residents.

However, our current BOCS tosses “candy” all over the place, rather than concentrates development by zoning for growth in just a few places.  After cheerleading a 2030 Future Commission report that envisioned “[s]trategically placed town centers [that] provide an opportunity for people to live, work and play in one location,” the BOCS recently initiated numerous Comprehensive Plan Amendments.

We’re on track to increase density in various areas, over-zone for 500,000 rather than 140,000 new residents, and scatter new growth rather than concentrate it.  Instead of encouraging town centers, we’re still encouraging more-of-the-same sprawl.

We’ve been through sham planning for years in this county.  The Gainesville Sector Plan authorized massive amounts of development, far beyond what is realistic for that area.  It was a sham, not a plan.  Any new 2030 Comprehensive Plan that just talks about hypothetical town centers – but fails to limit development so we steer growth to just those areas – would be more of the same ‘ol same ‘ol.

Why?  If we project 140,000 new residents by 2030, but we draw spots (“centers”) on a map that allow enough development to accommodate 500,000 new residents, we’re not being realistic. Overzoning puts candy in both hands, on our heads, on the table, behind the sofa… and tells developers they can build everywhere.

C’mon, developers are smarter than 5th graders.  If allowed, developers will keep building fragmented projects in a random and uncoordinated pattern – and two decades from now, we’ll still be talking about “strategically placed town centers” rather than living in them.

For the next Comprehensive Plan to actually shape development, the capacity of new strategically placed town centers must match up with the predicted population growth.  One or two new strategically placed town centers on the Land Use Map will match supply and demand by 2030, unless we downplan/downzone some other parcels.

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