Proposed Centers: Wellington and Innovation

The Planning Department staff has proposed that a “Center of Commerce” should be located at Wellington and a “Center of Community” at Innovation.

In the case of Wellington and Innovation, those two dots on the Land Use Map make some sense, unlike some other proposed “center” locations.

And Wellington and Innovation would make far more sense if the labels were reversed…

These dots on the map are important.  They define where we want new housing for the 140,000 people predicted to move to Prince William between now and the year 2030.  They define where should encourage employers to locate new jobs, so Prince William residents won’t have to commute to Tysons Corner/Dulles or all the way into DC.

Ideally, the dots define both housing and job centers, where we’d stimulate walkable communities where people could live *and* work.  If just one-third of 140,000 new residents gotta drive to work… ugh, think of the future traffic jams.

We can do better.  For years, Innovation has kept a sign on Route 234 Bypass advertising it as the location of  “University Town Center.”

The county has already installed roads, utilities, and stormwater management services.  We built a George Mason University campus at Innovation, and recruited the headquarters office for an internationally-renowned biotech organization (American Type Culture Collection).  We landed and lost Eli Lilly, but Innovation was designed long ago to become an employment center.

On May 5, VRE will tell us where they want to extend commuter rail towards Gainesville-Haymarket.  (I’ll bet dollars to donuts that an Innovation station is on the wish list…)  Later, we’ll dedicate the new Center for the Arts cultural center.

With that much skin in the game now and commuter rail on the horizon, you’d think the county planning staff would propose a full-fledged town center at Innovation.  With all those incentives for developers, that’s the place to build a new, compact community comparable to Town Center in Virginia Beach, Reston Town Center, or the proposed Kincora development in Loudoun County at the corner of Route 28/Route 7.

Innovation is the one place in Prince William where the county would have the greatest influence in shaping development. The county, as landowner, could issue an Invitation for Bid, specifying the form and/or function of the town center that should be developed.  With all the incentives to offer at Innovation, Prince William County is well-positioned to stimulate the desired growth to accommodate new residents/jobs.

But no, staff suggest planning just a Center of Community (“Neighborhood centers for residents to live, shop, dine, recreate, and congregate”) there, rather than a more-developed Center of Commerce (“Planned urban town centers where a variety of activities with a regional draw allows people to work, shop, dine, live and enjoy entertainment”).

For some reason that escapes me, staff suggests Wellington as the site for a town center.  It’s further west towards Gainesville, at the northern part of the old Brentswood project.

Unlike the dot on the map proposed by the Land Use Advisory Committee, at least the staff’s Wellington location is also on the rail line.  However, it lacks walking access to Center for the Arts, or to the GMU campus, or to the employment centers being established at Innovation.   I assume staff expects some developer will build new infrastructure at no cost to the county, and even clean up whatever remaining soil contamination may exist at the old Atlantic Research rocket testing site at Wellington.

Why ignore our already-developed, already-planned-for-more development areas, complete with signs advertising “University Town Center”?  I can understand why existing developers in our county prefer to develop open fields and forests at Wellington.  That’s where they can maximize profit using their current “buy property at low prices, build and sell, then go away” strategy.

It’s harder to understand why county officials prefer Wellington to Innovation.  Sure, Wellington is easier to develop than revitalizing Route 1 – but Innovation is under county control.  There would be no need for those behind-the-scenes proffer negotiations; everything desired by the county could be listed in the Invitation to Bid.

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